The First Four
What can a supportive parent do to make a difference in arts education? You can begin by following these eight important steps.
Start with talking to your children’s art teachers. What’s going on in their arts programs? Ask how you can be helpful. Talk to other teachers and ask them how they collaborate with the arts specialists. Talk to the principal, your district’s arts education coordinator (a member of the school or district administration that works with arts educators to build the arts curriculum and courses), and superintendent. It’s important they know you care about your child and the arts, but it’s also important they know you care about every child and the overall quality of education.
Suggest that arts education data be included on your district’s annual report card that is distributed to taxpayers. State and local school district report cards are critical tools for promoting accountability for schools, local school districts, and states by publicizing data about student performance and program effectiveness for parents, policy makers, and other stakeholders. Report cards help parents and the general public see where schools and districts are succeeding and where there is still work to do. And don’t forget the federal government includes arts education as a part of the core curriculum (course of study, which is deemed central and usually made mandatory for all students of a school or school system). If your state has a statewide survey of arts education, ask other arts education supporters to join you in comparing your school’s data to it. You can obtain research for your state by contacting your State Alliance for Arts Education.
When you’re ready to set some specific goals to provide more school-based arts education experiences, contact the Kennedy Center’s Education Department to provide you with A Community Audit for Arts Education, a tool that will help you assess arts education in your community and your schools. In addition, also request a copy of the Arts Education Advocacy Tool Kit. The Education Department may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a great way to facilitate dialogue and start planning to improve your child’s arts education.
Assemble a Team
Remember that when you involve others, each individual brings their various affiliations to the table. One person may be a member of the PTA, another a Rotarian, a third a member of a book club, and a fourth a supporter of the local symphony or museum. Their affiliations are potential allies.
The Final Four
Engage Elected Officials
At election time, find out which candidates for your school board, state school board, and legislature know about and support arts education. These groups determine education policy and practice. Invite office holders to attend and participate in arts events where they can see firsthand how important arts education is to schools, children and their families, and voters. These events provide an opportunity for potential office holders to share their opinions and for you to learn how they might affect arts education. It’s always important to understand the context in which arts education is competing for attention and resources, such as public funding.
Join Advocacy Groups
You and your allies should join professional arts education and advocacy organizations. They need your support, and not just your financial support. You could be called upon to testify at hearings, help set up workshops or conferences in your region, invite your legislator to attend state arts advocacy day festivities, or participate in a phone tree rallying arts education supporters to action, and more.
Sharpen Your Advocacy Skills
By partnering with arts and advocacy organizations and supporting their efforts, you will sharpen your advocacy skills. In fact, they will guide you to information and resources you need, keep you posted on issues affecting arts education, and help you remember that you’re not in this alone. You’ll be rewarded with a much appreciated “thank you” and “congratulations on a job well done!”
Don’t confuse a job well done with a “done-job.” Arts education advocacy work is never done. Success is not measured only when funds are allocated for your arts program or legislation is passed strengthening arts education. Success may also be the moment the middle school play cast takes its curtain call or the show chorus sings its finale. Success may not be in what you have changed but rather in what you have sustained.