People have been moved to express themselves artistically since the earliest humans were inscribing paintings on the walls of caves. There is simply something about creating art that enriches one’s soul.

That’s why the news we received this fall from Arts Ed NJ, that New Jersey has become the first state in the nation to provide access to arts education in all schools, was so welcome.

I believe that an arts education is key to engaging students. During the years I spent as a teacher, principal and superintendent, I noticed that for a significant number of students, their involvement with the arts is the highlight of their day, and for some, the reason to come to school.

Students involved in the fine and performing arts always seemed to perform better academically when they were involved in a robust program — a relationship that has been borne out by research.

There is also a clear link between the arts and social-emotional learning. No other discipline creates the opportunity for self-expression and collaboration more than the arts. The ability to empathize with others, interact with people in a positive way, and express yourself clearly and honestly are life skills that are critical for the personal growth of students, and ones that make full self-actualization possible. It’s no wonder that children thrive emotionally when they have access to the arts.

This issue of School Leader magazine has a special section on arts education, and details the impressive gains New Jersey schools have made in providing this essential discipline for children, how one district boosted participation among its students, and some ideas for community partnerships in arts education. The section begins on page 16; I urge you to read it.

Learning about and participating in one or more of the four disciplines of the arts — music, visual arts, theater and dance — can start someone on a lifelong journey. Not long ago, I spoke with a gentleman who played the trumpet in a community orchestra — something he began doing when he was a young student. This man was 91 years old and was still experiencing happiness and fulfillment from his involvement with music. Music had been his faithful companion throughout the ups and downs of life, and, after nine decades, continued to enrich his days.

My hope is that our state’s students will find a passion like that to inform and enhance their lives. I believe that the only thing better than art… is more art.