We All Have a Role to Play

The following is drawn from Arts for Everykid: A Handbook for Change, by Cory Ann Alperstein and Ronnie B. Weyl. Download the full text (163 pages).

STUDENTS may be the most effective advocates of educational reform for they command the attention of teachers, parents, school administrators, school board members, and local politicians. They are living proof of the positive impact the arts have on overall learning and academic achievement. As advocates, students can:

  • Showcase their accomplishments at “back to school nights” or “parents’ nights”, through Youth Arts Month activities, or before the states’s legislature.
  • Initiate a steering committee of students, parents, and teachers to promote arts education programs in the schools.
  • Spread the news of successful arts programming initiatives in school or community papers and through student councils.
  • Use award ceremonies, presentations, and exhibits as opportunities to plug the cause of arts education.
  • Invite legislative representatives and government officials to arts events.
  • Speak at board meetings and public hearings, particularly when budgets are being reviewed, in order to defend arts education programming, facilities, and teacher positions.
  • Explain to parents why arts programming is important.
  • Coordinate advocacy efforts with other groups to keep the issue of arts education in the public eye.

PARENTS who appreciate the relevance of the arts to a quality education already play a significant role in supporting arts education. PTA’s and PTO’s often pick up the tab for performances given by professional artists or trips to museums. PTA and PTO fundraising activities literally make many arts education initiatives possible.

Parents are an important lobby group and are pivotal in raising issues and pushing for change in their schools. As education reforms such as school-based management become more prevalent, parents will be in a position to participate even more in the decision-making process that occurs within each school. As advocates, parents can:

  • Arrange for speakers to present “arguments for arts education” to other parents, education professionals, school committee members and the general tax-paying public.
  • Gather information to determine whether the written goals of a given school require a comprehensive, sequential K–12 arts curriculum and if there is accountability for these goals in terms of student performance, teacher qualifications, availability of facilities and other resources.
  • Coordinate a community-wide campaign to promote arts education at the state and local level.

ART TEACHERS are in a position to make the arts visible in their schools and to articulate the importance of arts literacy. Through exhibits, performances, publications, and more, art teachers can demonstrate how the arts contribute to the intellectual and emotional development of all children. They can reinforce the value of arts programming. As advocates, art teachers can:

  • Network aggressively with arts teachers in their own districts as well as other school districts to build alliances.
  • Seize opportunities to demonstrate arts education successes to school administrators, school board members, parents, and legislators through arts shows, performances, and presentations.
  • As artists and art providers they can share their time and talent by designing brochures and writing testimony for advocacy materials.
  • Show the impact of the arts on learning across the curriculum by inviting classroom teachers and parents to participate and help in projects.
  • Join organizations that support arts education, not only to keep up with trends, legislative initiatives, and funding sources but to also share insights from the field and participate in advocacy actions.
  • Identify and join forces with others outside the arts community who can speak on behalf of arts education.

HIGHER EDUCATION LEADERS can play an important role in changing attitudes regarding arts education. Many already recognize the importance of the arts in general education and look for prospective college students who have studied the arts in high school. These same leaders believe students should be given opportunities to pursue rigorous arts education at the college level to ensure that they receive a well-rounded undergraduate education. These leaders also acknowledge their responsibility to serve the community in which their college or university is based. As advocates, higher education leaders can:

  • Develop a formal position on the importance of a comprehensive K–12 arts education curriculum and push to strengthen arts high school requirements.
  • Include as criteria for undergraduate admissions high school credits in the arts and a demonstration of student’s competency in the arts.
  • Provide local public school children and their teachers access to important resources such as facilities, faculty, and graduate students.
  • Encourage the college or university to develop community outreach programs that serve the general public.

GENERAL TEACHERS are called upon more and more to integrate the arts when teaching English, math, and other disciplines. Eager to adopt new teaching approaches and strategies, many classroom teachers recognize the value of incorporating the arts into their lesson plans but may not have the knowledge of skills to do so.

The time is ripe for general classroom teachers and arts teachers to work together as partners and develop curriculum that includes the arts as a basic component of general education. General classroom and arts teachers can also address specific issues that will help them achieve a common goal: a quality education for all children. As advocates, general classroom teachers can:

  • Meet regularly with arts teachers to work on classroom activities and school-wide projects, and keep school administrators informed on their joint projects.
  • Join organizations that support arts education to keep informed of and participate in specific advocacy actions.
  • Keep other teachers and school administrators informed of “arts across the curriculum” sharing with them and parents the positive impact arts programming has had on students learning experience.
  • Show support for arts teachers when arts courses and staff positions are threatened by budget cuts.

ADMINISTRATORS can promote arts education in the schools for allocating funds and initiating programs. At the district level, superintendents are key to a district-wide commitment to arts education. If they recommend policy directives for the arts, their respective school boards will likely adopt such measures. School board members who are advocates of arts education can persuade others to consider policies to adopt and fund arts education programming. As advocates, principals, superintendents, and school board members can:

  • Provide leadership in the education community.
  • Establish written directives outlining comprehensive sequential K–12 arts education at the district level.
  • Work together to create new programs, hire additional faculty, and fund new facilities, materials, and supplies to improve arts education.
  • Design better monitoring and assessment tools to review student outcomes, teacher performance, and the quality of curriculum and facilities.
  • Promote better cooperation between arts teachers and general classroom teachers and administrators.
  • Provide opportunities for other arts education advocates to speak on behalf of arts education.