Second Grader Starts Petition to Fight Art Education Cuts at New York City School

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Seven year-old Elizabeth Wholmaker has organized a petition against the elimination of a dedicated art class at her school. The second grader, who attends P.S. 47 in Queens, has collected two dozen signatures to date, according to the New York Daily News.

“I was very upset,” said Wholmaker about the cancelled class. “They were my favorite periods.”

Yet, Education Department officials say that the art education will still be a part of the newly redesigned school curriculum—only now, art lessons will be incorporated into other classes.

“PS 47 ensures students receive arts education throughout the day,” said Education Department spokeswoman Miranda Barbot to the Daily News, “and we thank this student for raising her voice for an issue important to her and her classmates. The school’s leadership team meets to discuss issues important to the school community often, and will take this petition under consideration.”

According to a 2014 report from the city comptroller, about 28 percent of New York City schools did not have a full-time, certified arts teacher. But researchers say that access to arts education is critical to the academic, social, and emotional development of school-aged children. A recent study from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research showed that children who participated in arts programming at school were less likely to have disciplinary infractions, displayed more compassion for others, and had higher writing scores.

In starting the petition, Elizabeth hopes to reach more supporters and says, “I feel confident in myself.” 

No matter the outcome, her family is encouraging of her effort.

“She is proud of herself,” said Kristine Lawless-Wholmaker, Elizabeth’s mom. “I stand by her and fully support her.”

Cassandra Etienne is a freelance reporter and video journalist based in New Jersey. Her multimedia and documentary projects reflect an interest in cultural reporting, and in covering social issues such as civil rights, women's health, and education and healthcare reforms.