Posts Tagged ‘theatre’

Celebrate Arts Education Month (Here’s how)

March 10, 2011

Assembly Concurrent Resolution 25 (Campos) declares “March 2011 to be Arts Education Month and encourage[s] all elected officials to participate with their educational communities in celebrating the arts.”

There’s no better way to share the power of arts education with elected officials than by inviting them to experience firsthand the creativity, innovation and joy that happen in arts classrooms. The Alliance’s Arts Learning in Action Toolkit provides a step-by-step online guide for planning a visit for a local school board member, mayor, city council, county board of education or county supervisors.

Finding the Words for Duke Ellington

We spoke to award-winning teacher Genein Letford and she shared a lesson that brings to life the tenets of ACR 25 with ”a visual and performing arts curriculum [that] addresses and develops ways of thinking, questioning, expression.”

Once a third grade general education teacher, Letford is in charge of the music program at NEW Academy Canoga Park. “My goal has been to develop a program that teaches music standards, theory and instrumentation while successfully connecting to other disciplines for whole child learning.”

Her lesson on Duke Ellington brings jazz, improvisation and African American history to life. It charts Duke’s rise from piano player in pool halls to leader of an orchestra headlining at Carnegie Hall, where he introduced Black, Brown and Beige, a suite that celebrated the “the triumphs of black people, from the days of slavery to the years of the civil rights struggle.”

Letford’s lesson is also an exploration of language. “I use Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra for its wonderful similes to convey the color tones of the instruments and the mood of the music. Along with developing listening skills (students identify instruments and instrument families), the students pay attention to how the authors use language to describe the music. Then the students practice writing similes of their own to describe the music.”

Art isn’t Just for Art Classes Anymore

You don’t have to be an art teacher to celebrate the power of arts learning this month. Assemblywoman Campos’ resolution affirms that a “visual and performing arts curriculum addresses and develops ways of thinking, questioning, expression, and learning that complement learning in other core subjects.” There is a growing interest in cross-curricular learning. The Kennedy Center defines arts integration as:

“An approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area meeting objectives in both.”

Last week, we witnessed an exciting example at the Armory for the Arts in Pasadena, when they shared findings from their new curriculum, which integrates visual art and math. The curriculum develops the connections between math and art focusing on math standards, providing visual art lessons and standards-based instruction to complement and enhance the math learning. Assessments after one semester show a sharp rise in post-test skills, as well as improved scores on standardized tests. Stay tuned for more information about this exciting initiative.

Let the Celebrations Begin

Help us spread the word about Arts Education Month, share our new video, Start a Conversation About the Arts. It links to our Arts Learning in Action toolkit and makes a persuasive case (complete with music from Ozomatli) for advocates to reach out to elected officials.

Genein Letford is an elementary music teacher from Canoga Park and believes that every child, despite socioeconomic status, deserves a quality education that includes the arts. Mrs. Letford began her teaching career as a third grade teacher of low-income English language learners. It was there she discovered the power of using music to help teach vocabulary and academic concepts to her students.

Mrs. Letford is now the music director at the same elementary school and has created a dynamic award winning music curriculum that not only teaches music standards but also incorporates corresponding math, science, language arts and social studies concepts. In 2009, Letford began the Music For All: Instrument Scholarship Fund, which awarded low-income students with instruments for their ongoing music education. Early last year, Letford was a finalist for the Bravo Arts Educator Award and was just named the 2010 Great American Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Letford received her bachelor degree from UCLA and recently completed her master thesis, Integration With Integrity: The Importance of Keeping Music in the Elementary Classroom at California State University, Northridge. She has done numerous professional presentations on this topic and remains focused on bringing arts education to underserved communities.

The California PTA Makes the Case for the Parcel Tax Initiative

April 20, 2010

By Debbie Look, Legislative Director of the California State PTA

Alliance: As school districts all over California struggle to make tough budget decisions, the California PTA has undertaken a ballot initiative to make it easier for local communities to create local funding streams. The Parcel Tax initiative would lower the passage rate for parcel taxes from two-thirds to 55 percent, making it easier for local communities to augment state funding for education programs.

Although the Alliance has not taken a position on this initiative, we note the trend in several school districts, notably Los Angeles and Pasadena Unified, who are using it as an alternative funding stream for arts education programs, which are often the first to be eliminated when there are state budget cuts. We have worked with the PTA since our inception over thirty years ago – and as ever, applaud their commitment to the providing a quality education to all students.

California PTA: The fiscal crisis in California impacts us all, especially the children in our schools right now, who have seen funding for their education slashed by more than $17 billion. It’s easy to point fingers and lay blame, but there are better, bolder options. We need practical solutions that help our local communities help their children.

That is why the California State PTA strongly supports qualifying the Local Control of Local Classrooms Funding Act for the statewide ballot in November. Delegates representing our nearly 1 million PTA members throughout the state approved a resolution at our 2008 convention calling for such a reform. PTA has a long history of finding real-world solutions to challenges, and today we need that same can-do spirit. There is something that can be done, and the California State PTA is working to see that it is done, by helping to qualify this initiative. If we are successful, it will be remarkable as a true grass-roots achievement, accomplished by true volunteers rather than the usual paid signature gatherers.

PTA supports this initiative as it will allow our local communities to support their children, by making it easier for school districts to raise money with local parcel taxes by lowering the passage rate from the currently required two-thirds to 55 percent.  The initiative seeks to strengthen local control of California schools and improve education quality by helping public schools generate stable, local funds that cannot be taken by the state.  If qualified, all of the money raised from local parcel taxes would have to be spent in the classroom on educational materials and programs. The act also calls for strict accountability, including annual audits to ensure funds are used properly and the appointment of an independent citizen’s oversight committee to report to the local community on how the funds are spent.

The act limits the total dollar value of proposals using the act’s provisions put before voters in any given election, to $250 per parcel, adjusted over time for inflation. This will limit how fast parcel taxes can be increased. The Local Control of Local Classrooms Funding Act will not solve the state’s economic crisis on its own. It will not restore the billions of dollars of state funding already cut from our schools.  But it will make it easier for each community to help its own children. To learn more about the Act or to sign the petition, go to: www.improvedschoolfunding.com.

The choices we make in times of crisis are critical. There are more than 9 million children in California.  That means there are more than 9 million good reasons to give local communities the tools they need to help all children reach their full potential.  We ask that everyone who is seeking positive action, join our effort to gather the 1 million signatures we need by May 1 to qualify this crucial measure. The children of California need our help now.

Theatre Students Bring a Message to Sacramento

March 30, 2010

March 30, 2010

On March 16, 2010, over three hundred theatre students, theatre educators, friends and school administrators gathered at the state capitol for California Youth in Theatre Day (CYIT), sponsored by California Educational Theatre Association. CYIT , is an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of theatre education to state legislators. Prize-winning students are selected to meet with their local legislators, perform monologues, songs, dances and scenes at the Sacramento Theatre Company (STC) and participated in workshops with STC staff.

This week, the Alliance spoke to four students from Birmingham Community Charter High School about their trip to Sacramento.

Alliance: What made you want to be a part of California Youth in Theatre Day?

Jade Williams: I wanted to participate in CYIT because it was a chance to show people and our legislators how important the arts are to me and to many of my peers. It was a chance to showcase some work that we worked really hard on and to show how much we would appreciate keeping the arts in our schools.

Jasmine Sturgeon: I wanted to participate because it felt like such an honor to be chosen to perform. I wanted to make a difference no matter how small.

Alliance: What were the highlights of your trip to Sacramento?

Aaron Diaz: The highlight of my Sacramento trip was watching other performances. I got to see new talent and get inspired by the stories they were telling and energy they were sending out to the audience.

I also got to see the Wells Fargo Pavilion theater after my performance. The theater is amazing. I just felt that energy stepping on that stage. I imagined myself in a performance and felt that power and that message that a performer can deliver.

Workshops were helpful too. I learned things that I didn’t know about  theatre in other cultures in the world. I was also able to work with other people that also love theatre. Just going to Sacramento was one of my highlights. I’ve never been to Sacramento and this was a perfect opportunity to see my state’s capitol. It was great meeting one of the legislators and walking around the building that our Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger probably walks through every day.

Alliance: What was it like meeting with legislators?

Afsatu Metzger: I had the great pleasure of meeting with Senator Alex Padilla and explaining the importance of theatre in schools. I also had the chance to tell him how theatre has affected me in a positive way; for example, I have become a more effective communicator through acting.

Alliance: Did you learn anything new from your trip? Was there anything that surprised you?

Afsatu Metzger: I learned that there is an urgent need to get leaders to understand the importance of theatre and the arts in schools. I was surprised that there are those who have considered removing the arts from schools.

Jade Williams: I knew we were there to advocate for the arts, but I learned that we should be advocating all the time. In our communities and everywhere.

Alliance: What would you like to people to know about theatre education in schools? How has it helped you? Why is it important?

Jasmine Sturgeon: I would like to let people know that theater programs are not those stereotyped ones seen in the media. You learn so much from them it’s ridiculous and the amazing part is half the time you don’t even know that you’re learning something. Being a team player as well as being a leader, losing and winning graciously, confidence, [and] how to be someone people want to work with. These are all lessons that are important in life after high school.

Jade Williams: I would like them to know that it helps kids of all ages and it is something that we love doing. It makes me want to go to school. It keeps kids busy and out of trouble. It helped me find friends in high school… if I need anything I always have someone to go to.

Theatre helps so much with public speaking– the actual speaking part and the part about being in front of people. It teaches you to work with others and to be someone that people want to work with. It helps in almost all aspects of life.

Afsatu Metzger: Theatre has taught me to work in groups and realize that it is not always about me but the company as a whole.

Aaron Diaz: Theatre is more than just having a great time backstage or cracking jokes and making everything more memorable for you. It’s about making the moment more memorable for your audience. It’s about that connection that you have with the audience and sending a message to the people […] Whether it is a song, a play or a dance, the goal is to inspire them and make the audience reflect after a performance. It makes a lot of us stronger and more confident after each performance.

A College Freshman Returns to her High School to Champion Arts Education

January 20, 2010

San Francisco State University freshman, theatre major and poetry slam champion, Jasmine Williams, talked to us about why she returned to her high school to talk to the next generation about a career in the arts.

Alliance: What got you so passionate about the arts?

JW: Well to be honest, when I first signed up for a theatre class in tenth grade, I took it because I just needed a few more credits and I figured it would be easy. But then, when I got in there I got introduced to all this new stuff – improv, performing, writing — that’s when I started writing poetry, and I grew to love it.

Alliance: Was it harder than you thought it would be?

JW: Yes! The teacher expected us to really work for the class! We had to write our own plays and put them on at the end of the semester. We had to do our own lighting, costume design –- whatever the audience saw, came from what we did. If we wanted to look good, we had to make ourselves look good.

Alliance: But since you were there they’ve cut most of the arts classes?

JW: Yup. No more theatre or dance, and the band is gone, too.

Alliance: So what made you go back and talk to students there about a career in the arts?

JW: Well our high school holds an Alumni College Fair each year, where they do workshops about applying for college and different careers. I remember going when I was in high school and there was no one there to talk about the arts!

I always want to contribute to my community, so when they mailed out the list of workshops this time, I said, you know what – I can really contribute now.

I emailed the high school and they agreed it was really good idea. They allowed me to take charge of the workshop. I invited two friends to come and speak about different art forms – painting, photography, design and fashion.

Alliance: What happened?

JW: It was amazing to see so many eager students there. I didn’t expect so many! The night before we only set up about thirty chairs, but then we had to bring out twenty more chairs and there were people standing. For each of three workshops!

Alliance: What was your message about the cuts to the arts programs at the school?

JW: We talked to them about that! They could see how much the programs had meant to the three of us – that we’d taken the time to come and talk to them on a Saturday. We told that it’s up to them because it’s their school. They can sign petitions, do a boycott, they can fight to get those classes back. You have to work to get those teachers back. We stressed that if they really want to have arts classes they have to work for it, no one’s just going to give it to you.

If Not Now, When?

December 16, 2009


By Laurie T. Schell, Executive Director, California Alliance for Arts Education

This year, it’s hard to find a news story about the holidays that is not also an account of shrinking resources and making do with less. Despite signs of improvement in the U.S. economy, the landscape is still littered with pink slips, foreclosures and bankruptcies. Against that backdrop, it is easy to understand why people tend to focus on their own interests. A sense of generosity and community-mindedness can seem like things that we cannot ‘afford.’

In the months ahead, we cannot afford not to stand together. With a state budget shortfall, hard-won arts education programs now face major cuts. Narrow agendas and self-interests will have to be set aside to build a broad base of support.  Los Angeles Unified, the second largest school district in the country and the largest in this state, has issued a preliminary budget proposal to cut 50% percent of its elementary arts teachers, 173 of 345 teachers, in 2010-11 and the remaining 50% in the following year. This program has been built over ten years with the full support of the school board and administration. I don’t believe the superintendent wants to make these cuts, but times are dire indeed. That’s why the community must make some noise, show they care, to demonstrate they know that a quality education include the arts. Other school districts are watching, other states are watching, the media is watching to see if the public is willing to fight for quality education.

Arts for LA is spearheading an advocacy campaign to protest the cuts by engaging parents, teachers, artists, and community members to stand and be heard. The California Alliance and other regional and local organizations are lending support to the effort. With the support of the Alliance, similar coalitions are forming in 20 communities across the state. Together, we are working to protect arts education from budget cuts like the ones proposed by LAUSD. Get in touch with us and get involved in your community.

History is replete with examples of generosity and courage during desperate times. The accomplishments of the California Alliance and similar grassroots organizations have been due largely to these types of coalition-building cross-sector approaches and a personal commitment to action. Every success is built on a series of small steps. And oftentimes against all odds, the outcomes are surprising and uplifting. We invite you to take part in the action. Now is the time.

For more information on the Los Angeles Unified campaign, go to www.artsforla.org/groups/lausd

Tear Down This Wall

November 18, 2009

By Laurie T. Schell, Executive Director

In the recent celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, President Reagan’s now famous speech exhorting Soviet President Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” replayed over and over again in print, radio and televised media. While the words echo a specific time and political context, the sentiment behind the words—of the need to tear down artificial barriers in order to effect lasting change– is one that arts education advocates would do well to embrace.

In spite of a sagging economy and plummeting state support for public education in California, there are clear signs of a shift in public perception about the value of arts education. The public, with parents in the forefront, has made it known that they want a quality education for their children, one that includes the visual and performing arts. We see evidence of this in California with the passage of the historic Arts and Music Block Grant funds of $105 – $109 million in 2006, 2007 and 2008. In the PSA announcements from the state’s largest teachers union, which decry the loss of arts programs in an attempt to gain more funding for education. In the stories from local advocates who have successfully lobbied to save their elementary music programs. The perception is out there— the public believes the arts are an essential part of a quality education.

Perception and reality are, unfortunately, two different things. The gains in public acceptance can be undone when an “either/or” argument is put forward, forcing choices or walls between PE and the arts, between community based arts organizations and schools, between Career Tech Ed courses and arts courses, and between in school and after school time. A complete education, which includes the arts, is about “both/and” not “either/or.” All of it is important.

In the arts education arena, we’ve always understood the value of a diverse constituency—parents, artists, teachers, business and community leaders. What we have yet to realize is an effective cross sector approach that subscribes to a vision that is larger than the sum of its parts. Embracing a common vision of excellence in education means placing students at the center, rather than institutions.

We need to continue to address the issue across many sectors—through national, state and local policy, local community advocacy, partnerships between schools and arts organizations, better pre-service education for generalist teachers, leadership development for school administrators, relentless exposure in the media, deeper relationships with the business community, to name a few. Everyone has a role. No one sits this one out.

Ultimately our strength comes from the creation a system of shared responsibility, or reciprocal accountability across sectors. Reciprocal accountability not only holds schools and teachers responsible for student learning, but also federal, state, and local educational agencies for ensuring that schools have adequate capacity and resources to provide strong instruction to all students, and parents, community and business members for giving voice and passion to the vision.

Tear down the artificial barriers that divide us and provide students the opportunities they need to be successful, caring and productive adults.

It’s Time for a Shared Delivery Model for the Arts

October 20, 2009

California’s visual and performing arts content standards are very ambitious and suggest the need for more instruction in the arts than any one teacher could provide.  In light of the scope and depth of these standards and the very strained resources in our schools, it seems time to embrace a vision for a “shared delivery model” in which classroom teachers, arts specialists, and community arts resources collaborate and coordinate their efforts so that kids gain access to a truly comprehensive program.  If we all work together in a coordinated fashion, the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.  In a fragmented or competitive scenario, students lose.

Wearing my hat as someone who provides arts programs to schools in a non-profit arts organization, I want to suggest the arts community needs to let go of some past paradigms if the vision of a true shared delivery model is to be realized.  Specifically, we have two pieces of worn baggage we need to toss in the dumpster: the “arts as charity” model and the “arts organization as lone ranger” model.

The “arts as charity” model has dominated the world view of many arts organizations at least since 1978, when Proposition 13 resulted in major cuts to school arts programs.  In this model, each fundraising appeal letter begins with this statement – “we all know there are no arts programs in our public schools.  But thanks to your gift, at least X children will have exposure to the arts.”  While big-hearted, this approach is counter-productive, If not harmful , to the cause of systemic arts education for all kids.  It is harmful because it reinforces the bias of many educators that arts programs do not have a legitimate claim on school budgets.  It is also harmful in that it may reinforce the view among donors and education leaders that we can never expect a reinvestment from schools and districts that would place the arts in the core curriculum for all students, not just the lucky few in a grant-funded charitable program.

The second piece of luggage we need to discard is the “lone ranger” model, where each arts organizations presents its’ work in isolation, and suggests or implies it has the magical ability to transform a school all by itself.  The fact is that very few, if any, arts organizations have the capacity to achieve a year-long, sequential instructional program for an entire school in music, dance, theatre, and visual arts.  In most cases, an arts organization has a specialty and expertise that can address one or a few pieces of a very large arts education puzzle. One group might provide matinee performances for school field trips. Another may send a teaching artist to lead a 14 week dance residency in four classrooms.  A third may provide an introductory workshop for teachers tied to the collection in a museum.  Yet for fundraising purposes, or perhaps our own ego, we communicate our work in isolation.  We imply we are the only resource available to a school and promise to achieve transformative results all by ourselves.  Sadly, this very isolation and fragmentation means that our individual efforts are not achieving a critical mass or impact.  Imagine what could be possible, if several arts organizations worked in concert to collaborate with a single school to leverage all their resources for a much larger result.

While we know budgets are tight and finances can become very competitive, the fact is that California schools need more assistance and support than could ever be provided by the combined efforts of every existing non-profit arts agency in the state.  So the good news is that there is more than enough “need” to go around.  So rather than fight for isolated crumbs and programmatic fragments, imagine the difference we could make if we worked together in a collaborative partnership that linked arts resources, arts specialist teachers, and classroom teachers.  Imagine the arts learning that could be provided if we worked in a true shared delivery model.

Theatre & Dance Credentialing: The Time is Now

October 7, 2009

Recently, Kathy Lynch, the Alliance’s legislative advocate, and I met with the California State Commission on Teacher Credentialing. After taking input from professional dance and theatre instructors from across California, we wanted to make the case for separate credentialing of dance and theatre instructors. Why? Because until we treat all four arts disciplines – visual art, music, theatre, and dance – as distinctive disciplines with their own methods and modes of learning, California students are missing out on the full benefits of arts learning under the guidance of professional, highly qualified instructors.

Ever since around 1970, there has been no single subject credentialing for dance and theatre teachers in California. The impact has been that while 88% of secondary music teachers and 84% of visual arts teachers meet the standards for being “highly qualified” in their respective fields, only 36% of dance teachers and 55% of theatre teachers are similarly qualified.

The Alliance often frames our goals in terms of quality, equity and access to arts education.  The debate over teacher credentialing goes to the heart of what we mean when we talk about access. Without professional credentials in these two arts disciplines, fewer teachers pursue the fields of dance and theatre. Many talented prospective teachers have left the state to acquire necessary training in their field, or abandoned that career path altogether rather than take on the burdensome and extraneous requirements of English or physical education credentialing.

In other states, the establishment of theatre and dance credentials has increased the demand for such credentials, the number of students pursuing arts education, the quality of instruction and the demand for such classes in schools (this according to the Senate Office of Research). Moreover, federal law (“No Child Left Behind”) requires that visual and performing arts be taught by “highly qualified teachers”. For all of these reasons, California must consider establishing single subject credentials in theatre and dance.

While we fully recognize the economic challenges our state currently faces, we believe the time has come to begin the process that will lead to the establishment of single subject credentials in the subjects of theatre and dance. At the national level, these credentials would meet the requirement of highly qualified teachers in all core subject areas, including the arts. At the state level, the credentials would deliver on our own established state policies and standards.

But perhaps most important: the establishment of these credentials would help enable California’s students to receive the full benefit of quality theatre and dance education.

The Alliance will continue to work with other education partners in the months ahead to build consensus through collaboration around this issue, and complete the promise of bringing complete standards-based education to all California students.

The Current State of Arts Education in California

September 22, 2009

By Laurie T. Schell, Executive Director

Welcome to our new blog!  In the coming months, we look forward to bringing you posts from a wide variety of thinkers engaged with the future of arts education in California.

Recently, the Alliance undertook an informal survey of the 30 largest school districts in California to get a temperature read on how things are going. Here are two observations that stand out in reviewing the research:

If you don’t use it, you lose it. The most common story we heard from across California has to do with the demise of the unused one-time and ongoing Arts and Music Block Grant funds (resulting from the historic grant made in 2006). The irony is that many districts were trying to do the right thing— holding the money in order to think and plan strategically for greater impact over several years. And guess what? The unspent funds are largely gone now – swept into the general fund as soon as a change in state policy allowed.

We heard harrowing stories of districts making painful decisions about how to rob Peter to pay Paul, and we understand the desperate straits that many districts find themselves in. But what can we learn from the fate of that historic grant?

It’s a commonplace of budgeting that if you don’t use designated funds, you’re likely to lose them. That means having a strategic plan in place before the money arrives and strong momentum in the delivery of quality arts instruction already underway.  Having a plan is not a panacea, but it has proven a successful tactic for districts who make a commitment both to the plan and its implementation. Some day we’ll emerge from these dark days of the economic crisis. And when we do, districts that have done their planning work ahead of the curve will stand to benefit the most. So whether we’re talking about future federal funding, or just the return of better days and the rise in tide that lifts all boats, it’s important to continue planning for improved capacity in arts education.

Our message has made a difference. The second finding from the survey reveals a silver lining. In many cases, several of the districts we spoke with reported their administrators and school board officials valued the arts and took positions to protect arts programs. They also reported arts education advocates from the community were present and vocal at school board meetings. This hasn’t always been the case. These anecdotes suggest that advocates have been very effective in raising the level of awareness about the value of arts education for every child.

There is no doubt that we’ve made progress—historic funding in 2006, pockets of community activists making the case, better understanding of what quality arts programs look like, and greater awareness among school board and administrators. The problem, however, is that the restoration of the arts in each of the 1,000 California districts is tenuous and can only be sustained if each of us takes responsibility to act.  Without letting up on the message about why the arts matter (the emotional message), we must also hammer away at the need to fund and prioritize the arts in the same way as other core subject areas (the political message), and position the arts as an essential component of a complete education for every child (the BIG message).

We need to get busy as advocates, making sure that our state and local policymakers and education decisionmakers do three things, with regard to the visual and performing arts.

Prioritize the arts – dance, music, theatre, visual arts – as a core subject area.

Fund arts education – teachers, curriculum, instructional materials, professional development – in an ongoing, sustainable way.

Position the arts as essential to a complete education, thereby protecting them from funding raids in lean years.

Those three principles should guide every action we take as advocates.

And that leads me back to this blog. In the coming months, we’ll investigate many different points of view related to the political work ahead of us. We’ll ask knowledgeable experts to write about ways that we can prioritize, fund and position the arts in California schools. I hope you’ll be part of that conversation. It promises to be dynamic, diverse and pertinent.

If you don’t already, please subscribe to our twice-monthly newsletter, ArtsEdMail. Each issue will pose a question, and link to this blog, where we hope to engender and open conversation in response.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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