Keeping the Arts Alive in Your Child’s School – How Some Schools are Beating the Budget Crisis

Research studies have shown that a strong school arts program increases a student’s self-esteem and creativity, and fosters a lifelong love of learning. But during tough economic times, it’s usually arts programs that are first to be cut. Learn how three North State schools, Redding School of the Arts, Chico Country Day School, and McCloud Elementary School, are beating the budget crisis in innovative ways in order to keep the arts alive for their students.

The Redding School of the Arts (RSA) website explains why visual and performing arts are so important to maintain:
“Children who participate in music and arts programs often do better in other subjects than children who do not, and low-achieving students engaged in a visual and performing arts program have better attendance, increased self-esteem, and cooperate more fully with teachers and peers.”

Fifteen years ago in Redding, teachers Margaret Johnson and Jean Hatch initiated the charter for Redding School of the Arts when they saw that the arts were being cut from school budgets. They felt that the arts were an effective way to reach a lot of children, and that there was strong interest within the Redding community for establishing an arts-focused school. RSA uses an interdisciplinary approach, integrating visual and performing arts into their curriculum. For example, if the students are studying American history, then square dance and fiddle tunes become part of the study of the time period. RSA has experienced a level of budget cuts similar to many school districts in recent times, but they’ve been able to avoid cuts in their arts program with a single focus of making sure the school programs meet the mission of the school. Rather than eliminating elective classes, which include ballet, studio art, and three levels of drama, the school has decided to increase class sizes from 15 to 20 students.

Chico Country Day School (CCDS) is a charter school with a strong music education program. In addition to daily music classes, after-school instrumental and choir classes are offered. Starting in the fourth grade, students may enroll in Beginning Band, and Concert Band and Concert Choir are offered to students in fifth through eighth grades. Band director Art Davis emphasizes that the after-school music program has a “friendly atmosphere” and that students from other schools are encouraged to enroll. Davis notes that a commitment has been made by the board of directors to keep the music program going. The program is partially supported by parents, who contribute $30-45 monthly if they are able. Davis says, “Music is the universal language that brings people together.”

When McCloud Elementary School’s music program was cut four years ago, Darlene Mathis, owner of the McCloud Mercantile Exchange and at the time a mother of a school-aged child, decided to take action. She felt that it was unacceptable to have music education completely eliminated from the school, so she began spearheading fundraising activities and investigating different music programs that could be offered at the school.

Mathis learned about a non-profit arts-orientated program called Young Imaginations (www.youngimaginations.org) and that its co-founder and former Executive Director Marianne Locke has a home in McCloud. Young Imaginations, founded in 1987 and based Marin County, CA, brings multicultural music and dance classes to underserved school children in Northern California (primarily in and around the San Francisco Bay Area), typically now serving close to 7,000 children annually.

Locke initially came to McCloud Elementary for a few days and presented the Young Imaginations program to students. Mathis then became committed to getting the program permanently established at the school and continued fundraising. Since then an ongoing Young Imaginations program has been established with a special focus of music, drama and performing arts, and integrates the school’s history curriculum into the program. The program also has brought in new instruments and repaired existing instruments for the school. Mathis is currently raising funds for the school to purchase more band instruments and to hire a music teacher for the 5th through 8th grades. She says other organizations have been supportive, such as the Campbell Group Timber Company. “What we’ve raised,” says Mathis, “the timber company has matched.”

Each school mentioned offers a variety of fundraising events, including annual events, that support their arts programs, as do other schools in our Upper CA community. Some schools utilize the services of Village Fundraising, a family-run business based in Redding that provides products that students (and others) then sell for fundraising. Local schools such as Butte County’s Chico High, and Shasta County’s University Preparatory (U-Prep) and Millville Elementary, have successfully used Village Fundraising to raise funds for their arts and music programs. Targeted to Northern California counties, Village Fundraising owner Leslie Montana explains that participants receive 40-55% of the profit, and that her business has “put close to one million dollars back into schools.” Products include Otis Spunkmeyer cookie dough, Enviro Vogue Fundraising Totes, spring flower bulbs, and a variety of items from the Believe Kids gift catalog.

It’s refreshing to know that the arts programs in the schools highlighted here continue to be so fully supported. The enthusiasm, dedication and creative thinking on the part of parents, administrators and teachers, as well as support from organizations like Young Imaginations and  Village Fundraising, are helping keep the arts alive. As the Young Imaginations website states: “Don’t let the music and dancing stop!”

Darla Greb Mazariegos
About Darla Mazariegos

Writer Darla Greb Mazariegos is a mother of three and part of the North State Parent staff.

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