Note: This post was edited by Niki, using individual answers to the prompts by Nick, Rilke, Majalise, Mike and Christine.
We were able to move very quickly in our first year, in part because we had all the decision-makers at the table, every time. For us, that means three principals, two non-profit directors and two music teachers — nobody had to check with anyone else before they said “yes” or “no.” But although this arrangement has been expeditious, it did not necessarily encourage community-wide understanding of our project. We know that our parents, students and teachers are feeling the positive impact of our Studio to School funds, but it seems that most of them don’t understand the whole project or how it is being delivered.
As a committee, we’ve come to understand that we must communicate our plans and goals to the community at large, if we wish for these funds to have a more lasting impact. This was the focus of the August 2015 Rendezvous, which was attended by five of our project team: Leader Christine Tell, Evaluation Liaison Niki Price, Taft Elementary School principal Nick Lupo, Taft 7-12 band teacher Andy Hordichok and Taft/Oceanlake music teacher Mike Freel.
For Nick and Mike, this was their first Studio to School rendezvous. They both learned a great deal, not just about OCF and the arts education initiative, but about the Studio to School focus on community engagement.
“I learned about how the connection to the community and the schools should be a collaborative effort to make our programs stronger,” said Nick Lupo, the principal of Taft Elementary. “As a team, we recognized that we need promote and celebrate what we are doing within the schools. We have done tremendous things inside the schools to make our music programs stronger but we also realized that the community might not be aware of all our successes.We felt strongly that our program is growing in the right direction and now it is time to get the community involved so we can sustain these programs for years to come.”
In the team planning session held over lunch on Day Two, we hammered out a plan for “marketing” and public education. It includes the creation of brochures for distribution in the community, and banners which can be used whenever we have concerts and outreach events. We hope to have the banners ready in time for Lincoln City’s 50th anniversary parade in September.
“Performing for the public is a form of community engagement, and I have been putting much thought into ways we could do that,” said the K-6 music teachers Mike, who is new to both our school district and our S2S project team. “The upcoming parade in Lincoln City is the first place, but it would also be a good idea to take small or large ensembles from the 6th grade band, the high school band, and our elementary classes, and perform at various events in the community. This would be a great way to showcase what our students are learning. It would allow the students opportunities to experience performing live. Furthermore, it would be a great way to entertain and educate the public on what the grant has helped us do and what students can achieve in learning music.”
But engagement is not just about getting the message out, it’s about receiving input and support back into the schools. The nonprofit organizations who are involved in this project can make this connection, thought Christine: “After having the opportunity to talk with local merchants, I realized the degree to which the Sisters Folk Festival (after 19 years) fully engages local businesses. I appreciate the perspective expressed on the SFF website that the ‘SFF is more than a music festival, we are a community.’ Both the Siletz Bay Music Festival (SBMF) and the Lincoln City Cultural Center (LCCC) are fairly young organizations by comparison to the Sisters Folk Festival. However, I now see the need to build the bridge for the community merchants to how SBMF and LCCC are directly connected to the reintroduction of music into the Lincoln City Schools. We need to establish a similar equation to what has occurred in Sisters: Local Merchants support for the Festival and LCCC = Music programs for all kids in our Lincoln City Schools. I found it interesting that when merchants contribute to the Festival they define that as contributing to their local schools arts education. Pretty amazing impact!”
Of course, the first group of people we need to engage are those who are directly related to our students: the immediate and extended families. Rilke, the principal of our youngest students in the K-2 Oceanlake Elementary, hopes to develop a culture of arts appreciation among the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles of her students. “We have a significant number of families that see the importance of arts and music, and many of those students are in our band program,” she said. “But, there are many other families that may not know of the opportunities and benefits, and we need to continue to grow that support so that our programs can continue to grow.”
“During the 2015-16 year we need to engage our local businesses in a way that local merchants see a direct link to the return of music to our schools (after an absence of almost 10 years for 6th grade band)” Christine added. “Both SBMF and LCCC belong to the Lincoln City Chamber of Commerce and we have learned that the entire community is not completely clear that the Studio to School Project represents a partnership of our two organization with our three local schools.”
We’ve also considered another way our project can have more impact and community-wide support: growing the project committee to include underserved sectors of our student population. These populations may need special encouragement to take advantage of the new musical opportunities brought by our S2S funds, said Majalise. She manages the combined 7-12 school.
Majalise offered: “Currently we have two groups of students who are under-represented at the table and highly represented in our school: non-native English language speakers and low-income/homeless students. Adding community partners who represent these sub-groups will greatly enhance our ability to remove barriers and enhance opportunities for these two student sub-groups and our schools. This year, one of our teacher teams is also working closely with tribal members and our Indian Education coordinator to include native music education and experiences. Including our English as a Second Language assistant and a representative from the Homeless Education Literacy Project for Lincoln County School District will increase the voice in our partnership.”
We’ve also come to realize that our project needs to widen, and include more stakeholders from throughout the community. We plan to have an open community meeting on Oct. 1, and re-introduce our project under the slogan, “Music is Instrumental.” It will take place in the Taft 7-12 Commons, which was refurbished with funds from Year 1. We plan to invite all those interested for form a Music Boosters Club, similar to the booster club that supports the Taft athletic teams.
As a whole, we are very happy with the progress we’ve made in Year 1. We have had strong parental/family engagement as evidenced by attendance at various music performances at the elementary, middle and high school levels. It was “Standing Room Only” at our first 6th grade band performance in December 2014 as well as at many of our other music performances. And there were other first steps toward community engagement.
“One of our local merchants volunteered all employees for one day to paint the stage area in the Taft 7-12 Commons which was refurbished as a performance venue with some funds from Year 1. However, we must keep the momentum going, and firm up our engagement of parents and merchants during the 2015-16 academic year,” Christine said. “We will know we are making progress toward building engagement if we launch the Boosters and enlist community members, and if we see our business community participating in the “Music is Instrumental” PR campaign. We believe that both of these efforts are critical if we hope to sustain public support for our music programs after the OCF grant runs out.”