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Re-imagining Relationships: Using the Arts to Increase Parent Participation

May and June are tremendously busy times in schools. Among various projects and events underway in those few short weeks, the arts department at my school was planning their Arts in the Garden event and the school board was planning their annual general meeting (AGM). These two events normally have nothing to do with one another but that changed this year.

You see, the school board has appalling attendance at its AGMs.  Of the 395 voting members of teachers and parents, only 25 came to the last AGM, down slightly from the 29 who attended the one before that. And in order for any measures to be passed that involve changing the school constitution, 51% of all members are needed to make the quorum. All year the board has been trying to pass a proposal that would lead to increased parent participation on the board, but ironically, there were never enough parents (or teachers) at the meetings to pass these measures. Parents don’t come to board meetings because, frankly, they don’t see the point. Besides, they compete with countless other school functions. And what do parents care about most when inclined to prioritize? Seeing their children showcasing their talents of course! Cue coercing the arts department to relocate Arts in the Garden to the auditorium and dub it Arts at the AGM!

So what did this look like? It looked like sparkly tank topped high school choir members singing and dancing in between financial reports and school improvement plan presentations. It looked like a concert band, drum ensemble and middle school chorus performing on risers behind the audience during vote counting. It looked like people milling around in the back looking at AP artwork whenever they needed a break from the board proceedings. And it looked like the folding chairs were, for once, filled. Attendance of voting members had increased by 500%!

What does it mean for the arts at our school when they are used to increase parent participation in other areas? It presented a strange dichotomy of highlighting the power of the arts while minimizing their importance. The arts were used to bring parents to the school, then immediately sidelined. You can imagine the music performances and visual arts displays as commercials in between agenda items, except in this case the commercials were the only part many were interested in. The arts department, unsurprisingly, was not pleased.  Nonetheless, the opportunity to showcase the school arts program to the school board was a unique one and forging a relationship with the board could give the arts leverage in the future. Have you ever experienced using the arts to increase parent participation in a school? What can the arts department at my school do to maintain a relationship with the school board that realizes the inherent worth of the arts?

 

Sara Ackerman

Sara Ackerman | Kindergarten teacher at The American School of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. |  sara@nyu.edu

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