The state Board of Regents voted earlier this month to update the state's arts education standards for the first time in 21 years.

"The last update was in 1996. In that amount of time, the practice of artists has changed tremendously," said Cindy Henry, a high school art teacher in Endicott and chair of the state's visual arts standards writing team, which is among several voluntary groups of educators that worked on behalf of the state Education Department to draft the updated standards.

"They are more relatable to the 21st century; recognizing how our society and schools have changed, where jobs are and what's important now," Oneonta High School art teacher Keirsten Jennings said of the new standards.

Part of the overhaul — passed on Sept. 11 — was in the introduction of media arts into the disciplines, which includes film, television, game design and technology-based artwork. The new disciplines include music, visual arts, dance, theater and media arts.

Arts educators said that an emphasis on critical thinking, cross-disciplinary approaches and conceptual understanding are what is valuable to teaching the arts, and the new standards reflect that with consideration of "21st century thinking skills."

"There's a big emphasis on visual literacy and how students needs to be aware of how imagery influences their ideas and sells things to them and they have to decide how much they're going to let something influence them," Jennings said.

Students are "digital natives," raised in a world inundated with digital media, educators said, and the ability to translate it will be necessary for future careers. School districts such as Oneonta already have plans to renovate media and music labs to provide better infrastructure for students.

Robert Wood, a high school art teacher in Wappingers Falls and chair of the state's media arts standards writing team, said he sees this as the goal of the new standards.

"That idea that we are making, producing, or presenting, displaying work or having it presented to a viewer, how we connect to our society, are fundamental human behaviors that I think the arts can nourish," he said.

"If we're going to teach students to utilize those materials not only creatively but with a social conscience, those are the new things the new arts standards address. We're developing critical thinkers, individuals who can not only problem-solve but can think of problems," Wood explained.

"The standards highlight creativity and innovation, how we're looking for students with innovative skills who aren't afraid to experiment, who are curious, which is all things that you do in art classes," Jennings said.

Henry stressed that the standards are not curriculums, but rather open-ended ideas that can be built off of.

"It is not a prescriptive curriculum. Teachers have the expertise to develop meaningful, considerate curriculum for their students," said Henry.

According to the NYSED guidelines, the four critical components include standards, professional development, material resource support and administrative and community support.

"I appreciate that the standards outline creating a collaborative effort. Teachers are important, but it takes colleges and business and a community to say these are the skills that we think are important, and that the visual arts can teach them to our students," Jennings said.

According to Henry, the new standards were based on National Core Art Standards that were released in 2014.

The timeline for implementation begins in the 2018-19 school year. This year is marked as a transition year, where training will be provided for teachers and administrators statewide through BOCES and teachers' centers.

Whitney Bashaw, staff writer, can be reached at (607) 441-7218 or