They Fought For Arts Education (And Won)
Students who take art and music classes score higher on the SAT and have an easier time learning a second language. Performing Shakespeare in a school play can greatly enhance reading comprehension and the ability to engage in complex thinking across all disciplines, including the math and sciences. Students on the verge of dropping out often cite art, music, and theater classes as the reasons they go to class in the first place.
Unfortunately, when school funding dries up, many schools end up cutting the arts first. A 2012 survey found that 80 percent of school administrators in the U.S. felt their districts were inadequately funded. In recent years, students, parents, teachers, and school districts that support the arts have found ways to fight back against budget woes. Here are some examples of people finding creative ways to fight for arts education.
1. The drama teacher who secured arts funding for thousands of students.
In 2010, the Los Angeles Unified School District made deep cuts to arts education, sending pink slips to more than half of its arts-related workforce and forecasting future reductions. So elementary school drama teacher Suzanne Nichols organized a "Save The Arts" benefit to raise whatever funds they could for the Arts Education Branch of LA Unified. Nichols threw a concert, screened movies, and auctioned artwork by students and established artists. The result: "Save The Arts" raised thousands of dollars and actually expanded arts education to nearly 2,000 students in Los Angeles. They're still campaigning.
2. The charter school that worked arts back into its curriculum.
Odyssey Charter School in Altadena, CA, had a music and art program before 2008, but the recession forced the school to make painful budget cuts. Rather than give up on art, the school considered little ways to sneak arts back into the curriculum. Over time, they incorporated creative time by inviting parents with experience in music and art to visit the classroom. They also kept the arts going by introducing creative writing into classes like social studies.
3. The school district that saved the arts by switching to solar power.
The San Diego Unified School District has made painful, budget cuts across the board since 2007—in total, they've reduced school funding by more than $500 million. One way in which they've managed to salvage cash, however, is with solar power. In June 2011, the San Diego Board of Education decided against cutting funds for the district's arts program and instead found funds for their Visual and Performing Arts Department with the projected savings generated by renewable energy. District officials anticipate solar power will generate millions in savings in due time.
4. The other school district that saved the arts by switching to solar power.
The Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District in the San Joaquin Valley is relatively small, with five schools and 2,500 students. But Firebaugh-Las Deltas was still able to install solar panels in an effort to cut down on the cost of utilities. The projected savings from the project helped allowed the school district to revive its music program, which the district had eliminated years before due to the recession.
5. The students who practiced civil disobedience to sing at a choir competition.
Budget cuts forced Southeastern High School to cancel all of its music courses and effectively ended the school's 90-year-old choir program. But students who had trained all year to compete at the Michigan School Vocal Music Association's annual choir competition did not let the circumstances get in the way of their aspirations. Instead, they held sit-ins and rallies, challenged the teachers and administrators who tried to stop them, and at one point got dozens of students to walk out of class in protest of the widespread cuts. They made it to the competition, where they weren't allowed to officially take part—but they found a way to sing anyway.
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