When I walk my son to the park, he looks at our neighborhood elementary school in Boyle Heights with anticipation. He comments on the size of the yard, the mural. We talk about the teachers, the new things he will learn and the neighborhood kids he will play with. I want my son to attend this school. I want this school to offer a quality education.
I looked up the tests scores (not bad) but they do not tell me what I really want to know: will my son have a chance to perform in school plays (like I did)? Join the school orchestra (like I did)? Learn how to dance gracefully (like I never did)? And be taught every subject in a creative and engaging way (like I wish I had been)?
Equitable, quality education is the foundation of a fair and prosperous society. It’s a basic civil right. But it isn’t news that quality education is not available to all of our students. Many schools are underfunded, and punitive testing has narrowed the curriculum and forced some “failing” schools to focus their efforts on improving scores. New teachers are put in the toughest classrooms. But that isn’t news, either. Neither is it news that the majority of schools that are “failing” and are more likely to have cut arts and other non-tested subjects are found in low-income neighborhoods, like Boyle Heights.
Now for some actual news: there are schools and districts in L.A. County that have incredible arts programs, continue to grow those programs and are found in low-income neighborhoods. These schools and districts have faced the challenges of the budget crisis, but through commitment, community collaboration and creativity, they have expanded access to the arts for their students. They should be applauded and emulated.
Collaborations like the TakePart initiative in the South Bay bring together non-profit arts groups, community-based groups, funders, educators and leadership from several local school districts to share and coordinate resources. This effort has expanded arts education when so many districts have been cutting it. There are other examples, such as Watts schools working with the local Boys and Girls Club to build a local youth orchestra. In Boyle Heights, local artists (many of them parents) work with schools and the community on murals and lend their talents inside the classroom.
Strong schools have strong community partnerships and engaged parents. A complete, quality education can be achieved when the community comes together, voices concerns, creates a shared vision, identifies needs & assets, creates a plan to match needs with assets, and acts.
For parents, it may seem easier to abandon an under-resourced and underperforming school than to improve it. That point is made in the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” I was shocked when I first watched the film. First, my elementary school was featured. And second, rather than focusing on how to make my old school better, the film focused on leaving it for a “higher-performing” school. What about the kids who will remain at my old elementary school?
Boyle Heights may be a low-income neighborhood but we are rich in community, arts and solidarity. We have the power to make our schools great.
The vision for a quality education for all students requires an empowered community working collaboratively and creatively. That’s the goal of my work at Arts for LA: learning how communities can work together to increase access to and support for the arts and sharing that knowledge. I work in several communities throughout LA County building or connecting to networks of arts advocates and producing workshops and discussions to develop local strategies to foster thriving arts in schools and communities. This year, I’m working in Boyle Heights, Watts, Lennox, Lawndale, Wiseburn, Pomona, and Long Beach.
I invite you to join the conversation, share your ideas and work, and develop the role for your community in achieving a quality education that includes the arts at our upcoming series of community discussions and workshops.
Trainings will be held at Salon de la Plaza in Boyle Heights. Directions & parking information will be emailed to registrants. Please RSVP here.
Workshop 1: Tuesday, February 28, 6-8pm
Workshop 2: Tuesday, March 27, 6-8pm
Workshop 3: Tuesday, April 24, 6-8pm
Workshop 4: Tuesday, May 29, 6-8pm
Abe Flores is a Boyle Heights resident and Advocacy Field Manager for Arts for LA, an arts education advocacy organization, where he leads advocacy workshops to create networks of arts advocates in L.A. County.
This blog post was originally published at ArtsforLA.org