Entertainers bring music, visual arts, dance or theater back to schools
Miles from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the red carpet, Steve Shin belts out tunes on a piano. It is scarred with nicks. Love notes have been written on it in scratches. Shin is teaching children how to sing.
Years of cuts have stripped arts classes from much of the Los Angeles district. It is where Hollywood is located. Hollywood is the world's entertainment capital. But many children that live nearby have received no instruction in music. In addition, many have no access to visual arts, dance or theater.
When Shin arrived for the first day of class, he came to a quick realization. Many of his students were starting from zero. "A lot of them didn't even know they were going to be in a music class," he said.
Los Angeles is the nation's second-largest school district. It is trying to enlist Hollywood studios to "adopt" schools. The idea is to provide students with equipment, mentorships and training. It is one way to reverse the layoffs. They have decimated the arts curriculum.
The financial picture is slowly changing. The arts budget has grown to $26.5 million. That is about 40 percent higher than five years ago. But it is still a fraction of the $76.8 million that was once available for the arts. For the next school year, it will increase to $32.3 million.
In 2014, the district hired a former TV writer and producer. His name is Rory Pullens. He is now the executive director for arts education. He has hired an arts teacher at every school.
The Los Angeles school district has 90 percent minority students. Pullens believes they can one day help diversify Hollywood. It has become a widely discussed goal. That is especially true after the criticism of this year's all-white list of Academy Award acting nominees. Pullens has already met with Paramount, Universal and dozens of other industry leaders. He wants their help.
The push for arts education in LA comes as new federal education policies stir hope that schools will shift more time and money toward classes such as dance and drama. In recent years, districts have focused on areas emphasized by the No Child Left Behind law. That is a law enacted in 2001. It has required schools to meet annual targets for math and reading proficiency. If they failed, the schools faced intervention.
The pendulum is swinging. It is moving toward a more well-rounded definition of what education should be, said Scott Jones. He is senior associate for research and policy at the Arts Education Partnership.
Forty-four states require high schools to offer arts classes. Forty-five states make the same requirement for elementary and middle schools. But at many schools, policy doesn't necessarily match up with course offerings.
The new federal law instructs schools to offer a balanced education. That includes music and other arts. In Los Angeles, school leaders are hoping to rectify inequities in arts education.
When Pullens arrived, he surveyed every school. He wanted to find out what arts programs they had.
In a presentation last spring, Pullens outlined some bleak findings. About 45 schools had no arts teachers. Most had no alignment between elementary, middle and high school course offerings. He called on Hollywood executives to pitch in. And he hired Alyson Reed. She is a dancer and actress. Her credits include playing Ms. Darbus in "High School Musical." Her job is to reach out to industry contacts and coordinate donations.
Film and music studios have chipped in to help Los Angeles schools before. But their contributions tended to focus on the schools directly in their backyard. For instance, Warner Bros. has provided funding to improve auditoriums at Burbank schools. Sony Entertainment Pictures has run career workshops at Culver City schools.
But the schools with the biggest needs are in less affluent neighborhoods.
Some studio leaders said getting involved with Los Angeles schools was difficult. Others were simply unaware of the depth of the district's problems.
Kelly Koskella is president of Hollywood Rentals. The company plans to donate studio equipment. The equipment ranges from lights to fog machines. Koskella said he was stunned to learn many Los Angeles Unified schools lack even the kind of gear used in public schools in the mid-1970s.
To date, the Los Angeles district has confirmed several partnerships. They are with Nickelodeon, Sunset Bronson Studios and Sunset Gower Studios. Reed said she and Pullens have also had encouraging meetings with others. They include Disney, Sony and CBS. She hopes more will be announced soon.
Most of the donations have not reached students yet. Reed said the district is making an assessment. It must determine how the equipment will be dispersed.
One LA student is Terry Quintero. She is 12 years old. She had never been in a music class before. However, she now dreams of becoming a professional singer. One of her idols is Adele. Terry said that when she's singing, she leaves everything that's troubling her behind.
"What matters right now," she said, "is this class."
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why would Los Angeles, entertainment's capital, have difficulty providing education about entertainment in its schools?
Write your answers in the comments section below