Stepping Stones is a monthly column that breaks down seemingly daunting tasks into simple, manageable “steps” that any art educator can take and apply directly to their classroom. Stepping Stones will explore a variety of topics and share advice for art-on-a-cart teachers and those with art rooms.
YOUTH ART MONTH AND ADVOCATING FOR ART
by Heidi O’Hanley
Back in November, I was given an amazing opportunity to meet with my state representatives to discuss the importance of visual art in education. This was organized by the Illinois Art Education Association as Art Advocacy Day.
Over 40 student artworks from around the state were on display, many students, parents, and teachers gave speeches, and educators in attendance were able to meet one on one with representatives and senators. To have our elected officials meet with us and listen to our statements was a great experience, and we were happy to have the support from policy makers for the arts in education.
1. MARCH IS YOUTH ART MONTH, and what better way to celebrate your students’ accomplishments than by advocating for their right to have art in their education? Too often we hear from students and parents about how they wish they could have more time to create during the school day.
In many districts, elementary students may have art, but once they reach junior high, many students are not able to get art into their schedule due to high demands for other core subjects. Art becomes an elective for many schools beyond the elementary level, so the battle becomes more challenging to have visual art for more students in middle or high school.
2. THERE ARE A FEW DIFFERENT ways you can advocate for your students, no matter what level you teach. One of the best ways to advocate is by reaching out to those policy makers and having them hear and see how much art is important to your students and parents. If they make decisions on education at the state level, you need to show them why art has a positive impact on your students’ lives.
Many constituents do not take these steps because they feel it doesn’t impact as much as it should, but the more people speak up and communicate the importance of the arts, the more can be done to bring a positive impact for your students. Here are some things that have worked for me and some of my colleagues:
3. SEND LETTERS OR EMAILS TO YOUR STATE REPRESENTATIVES. I know it can be a scary step to take, but if you feel strongly enough about your stance, you can overcome that fear and contact your representatives in a way you are most comfortable with. Writing letters or emails can be one of the first steps in advocating at a local, state, or national level.
4. MAKE PHONE CALLS. When making a phone call, know your stance prior to calling that number. Sometime you can get a assistant on the other end, or you may get a message recording. Either way, make sure you explain your reason for calling in a quick, precise way that meets your goal.
5. WRITE POSTCARDS. Do you have an art show coming up, or would you like to share the accomplishments of your students? Create postcards of students’ artworks to mail in to your representatives and local elected officials! You can also send invitations to art shows or highlight accomplishments your students have made!
6. HAVE STUDENTS EXPLAIN WHY ART IS IMPORTANT TO THEM. When a student creates a hand-written letter explaining why art is important to them, representatives can see exactly how your teaching impacts their learning. Letters can be sent to administrators, local elected officials, or state representatives. Many times, a representative can respond to letters, which can be a great way for students to see how their voices can be heard.
7. ATTEND AN ART ADVOCACY DAY EVENT AT YOUR STATE CAPITAL. If there’s an event hosting by your local art education association to attend your state capitol, I highly recommend you take that opportunity! This is a great chance to meet with your representatives in person and send a personal invitation to meet in person. After attending our state’s Art Advocacy day, I not only met the representatives of my school district area, but my home district as well.
8. MEET YOUR REPRESENTATIVES IN PERSON. Prior to meeting your reps or elected officials, be sure to call their offices to see if an appointment can be scheduled. Sometimes, they may say to arrive at their office, other times, they can come out of session to meet with you.
If you do have an opportunity to meet with one in person, make sure you have your statement short and to the point. Many policy makers have multiple decisions to make throughout the day, so hearing your personal story can give them a better idea of how important visual art is to you and your students.
BE OUTSPOKEN FOR YOUR STUDENTS. Tell stories about how art has a positive impact in your students’ education. Whether it be an administrator, board member, local official, or state representative, have them listen to how important art is to you and your students and share their accomplishments any way you can.
Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT), teaches art at Brodnicki Elementary School in Justice, Illinois. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com.