How to Keep the Arts in Your Child's School
Although this endeavor will take a lot of time and effort, it's worth doing to keep the arts in the schools. The arts have many benefits to health and brain function, as researchers are discovering, and the arts are mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act, but it's up to us to make sure that the schools are paying attention!
What You Can Do
- Find people who live in your area who are interested in keeping arts in the schools. Arrange meetings with them privately at first, to identify each person's interest and strengths in dealing with large projects.
- Do some basic research on the benefits of arts. There are scientific papers being published all the time that discuss exact benefits of arts education, and it's important to have some background research.
- Organize a meeting of the people you have met with privately and introduce them to each other. Present your basic research and get a consensus that the arts need to be kept in the school.
- Devise a list of tasks and assign each person a task according to their strengths and willingness to perform them. Some sample tasks include: getting to know the school board members and principals; making friends with people in local television, radio, newspapers and bloggers; science writing for research summaries; speechwriting; networking; meeting and scheduling skills; childcare; legal; and many others.
- Assign someone to read the research and write summaries. That person should then pass the materials on the the speechwriter. Have the persons good at networking meet and get to know the members of the local school board, principals, and members of the media without pushing an agenda on them yet.
- Get together on a regular basis and review your progress. When you have all the basic steps together, devise an action plan. Find the local artists, musicians, etc. in your community and ask them to join forces with you and provide input.
- When you have finished your action plan, look up the schedule of open school board meetings. About 8-10 weeks before the meeting, have your contact person meet with principals to orient them to your action plan. Present your research to them along with your action plan and get their advice. Revise your action plan if necessary but you want to present them with something that is nearly complete and that will not require too much of the school besides facilities.
- Revise your plan, if necessary, and meet with at least one sympathetic member of your school board. Ask for their suggestions and decide how you will present it to the school board. Include slides or powerpoint presentations if appropriate as people will react better to pictures than to just words.
- Now is the time to contact the local media and do your best to get them interested in the research, and find out if they will cover the school board meeting at which you will present your action plan. Don't release the action plan to the media in advance of the school board meeting. Otherwise the board members who may be resistant will have time to counter your arguments.
- Have everyone show up at the school board meeting prepared to speak. Sign in and follow all the rules. Be polite and have prepared speeches so that you don't ramble and use your allotted time unwisely. Remind school board members that arts are required under the No Child Left Behind Act, and present your research showing that this will help in other academic and non-academic areas.
- Make detailed notes of all the objections that the school board raises. If your action plan addresses a significant number of those objections, proceed to the next step. If it does not, postpone the next step until you have revised your action plan to meet all the objections.
- Have your sympathetic school board member(s) introduce your action plan. Unless there's enthusiastic support, don't push for a vote just yet. Allow some media coverage to build up.
- Continue to present prepared speeches at each school board meeting. Continue to enroll parents, teachers, principals and community artists to speak at these meetings. Encourage media coverage. Don't lose your temper; just continue to speak politely and with facts and research to back up your positions. Remind the school board each time that arts are mandated in the schools by Federal law.
- Arrange interviews with reporters, radio show hosts, TV hosts, bloggers, and keep promoting your cause. Eventually, with a mountain of research and public opinion behind you, the school board will be forced to address the issues!
Things to Remember
- Always be calm, prepared, and cooperative.
- Acknowledge the other side's concerns and try to find points of agreement because once those are agreed-upon, those particular points can't be contentious any more and you can concentrate on finding agreement on more difficult points.
- Accept smaller victories. Sometimes things have to progress in stages. Be willing to accept small progresses in the beginning, and use that as a platform from which to work to achieve larger ones.
- Remain positive.
- Recruit as many people as possible to your cause. If your meetings are so large the only place to hold them is the high-school auditorium, the schools will get the message!
- Distribute the workload and keep it fairly balanced so no-one is overburdened and burns out.
- Keep the lines of communication open.
- Ensure that your encounters with the media are planned-for. Have responses ready if reporters ask you questions at a live event. At your meetings, have some practice in fielding unexpected questions ("That's addressed in detail in our action plan" is always good).