Taking the First Step: Getting Involved as a Scholastic Music Advocate
Friday, January 29, 2021

Taking the First Step: Getting Involved as a Scholastic Music Advocate

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With the added stressors in our lives right now, you might not be rushing to add something more to your calendar or to-do list. However, in an era dominated by video calls, it’s easier than ever to try out something new with relatively low commitment or involvement. If you never have before, try taking this opportunity to get involved with your student’s music booster club and school board meetings!

Listen In

There are two organizations that have a strong influence on your child's music education: your booster group, and your school board. It helps to keep a finger on the pulse of these groups as they make decisions that affect your student. An easy way to get started is to take the time to listen to their meetings. This is easier than ever during the pandemic, as most have moved their meetings online.

Find the meeting time and date, plus login information, and put it on your calendar. This information should be available via their email or website. Remember to create a notification to remind you a few moments before the meeting begins; it’s easy to miss a meeting when life gets in the way. If you’re just there to watch and learn, you can join via audio-only, so you don't have to be camera-ready.

Be aware of your school board’s workflow. You should be able to learn the basics by checking the school board meeting schedule on your district’s website. For instance, at a “workshop” meeting, they have discussions, ask questions, make decisions, and generally do the work of the board. Then later (it might be an hour, a day, or a couple of weeks) they’ll have the formal legislative meeting where they vote to approve their decisions (often without any public discussion at all, because that was done at the workshop meeting). Perhaps a district will do the bulk of their work in committee meetings, and then bring results to a full board meeting. Most of the meetings should be open to the public, except for closed sessions where personnel and staffing issues are discussed.

What should you listen for? In his book Music Advocacy: Moving from Survival to Vision, John Benham writes, “No decision should ever be made without someone asking, ‘What will the short- and long-term impacts of this decision be on the students?’” If you can’t answer it for yourself, consider reaching out to an administrator or school board member privately, or level up and ask that question publicly at the school board meeting.

With each agenda item, ask that question. Pay special attention to agenda items that make changes that will affect the music department budget, staffing, and facilities. John Benham cuts to the chase when he writes: “Remember: A cut is any decision made that will negatively impact the ability of any student to participate in making music.”

In the meantime, between meetings, consider beginning or strengthening relationships with board members, administrators, or other stakeholders. It doesn’t even need to be a substantive interaction. When they get to know your friendly face, hopefully they’ll be more willing to work with you on strengthening music education in your district.

Speak Up

Once you’ve gotten the hang of school board meetings in your district, you’re ready to level up. At most school board meetings, you have to be a resident or taxpayer to speak. Learn when during the meeting the board will accept public comments. For instance, comments related to agenda items may be accepted at the beginning of the meeting, while other comments may be reserved until the end of the meeting. You may be asked to introduce yourself and list your address. If your meeting will be broadcast live, and you’re not comfortable sharing that information publicly, reach out to the board secretary or other designated contact to request to speak and give them your address privately ahead of time. Make sure to give them enough time to process it; they may not see your email if it arrives 30 minutes before the meeting begins.

Gratitude

A great way to open communications with your school board and other stakeholders would be to thank them for their support of music education in your district thus far. Even if a given school board member is not a particularly strong supporter at this point, they have allowed your district music program to grow enough that your child was motivated to join. So express gratitude for that! So many kids in your district have had the opportunities they did because there was music in your schools. There will be plenty of opportunities in the future where you can press them to increase their support.

Advocate

If you’ve read this far, then you’re a music education advocate already! Author John Benham defines it this way: “Music advocacy is based on the belief that making music is essential to learning, the enjoyment of life, and the preservation of culture.” If your child is participating in music, then you already believe this.

Experts suggest that future school district funding will be drastically negatively impacted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to start advocating now for our music programs; they’re always among the first to be cut.

As a music education advocate, you have one job: Ask for what you and other music education advocates want (more music, improved scheduling, better funding, etc.). Work with your music coalition and music educators to determine those goals for your district. As a parent, or as a taxpayer, it might be tempting to empathize with the sticky financial situation the school district is facing. Don’t let that interfere with what you’re there to do. John Benham explains it this way:

Rule #1: No cuts or compromises should be suggested by any member of the community, including the music coalition, music educators, or the music supervisor!

As an advocate, it’s your job to ask for the moon, and let others decide how to pull it off. Increasing access to and the quality of music education in your district benefits everyone long-term, even if it will take a few more late-night budget meetings to make it happen.

To multiply your advocacy efforts, bring friends! We humans are social creatures and are susceptible to peer pressure. Even if your companions don’t speak, but join you wearing your music parent merch, board members will understand exactly why they’re there. Those who can’t attend in person should send letters. A well-timed “show of force” by your booster group or music coalition may convince your district’s budget committee to look elsewhere for easy budget cuts.

Are you kidding me?

This sure sounds like a lot of work, but not all of it needs to be done right away. You can build up to it. You can recruit a fellow music parent to join you, and you’ve doubled your efforts. Any attempt is better than none at all. Perhaps this year, you send or hand-deliver thank-you notes, or thank the administration and school board in person at their next meeting. Next year, you can work on pulling together the data for the Best Communities for Music Education Survey. But remember, any positive exchange with the decision-makers in your community will reap positive benefits, so look for opportunities! Invite them to a performance, or on a trip. Or even just take a moment to drop them an email, thanking them for their service to the district and for their support of music education. You’ll be glad you did.

To sum it all up:

Take small steps! When you’re comfortable, level up.

  • Attend a Zoom music booster meeting
    • If your kid loves their music program, consider finding ways to stay in-the-know about what’s going on and how you can be supportive of the program.
    • You don’t even need to turn your video on or speak! Taking it all in can be a great first step.
  • Attend a Zoom school board meeting
    • Knowing what is going on with the school district as a whole can help you to be aware of events and factors that might impact your child’s program.
    • Listen for decisions that affect music students.
    • Bring friends!
  • Speak at a Zoom school board or booster meeting
    • Ask questions, give feedback! Parent input matters more than you think.
  • Attend school board meetings regularly
    • As a regular attendee, you can be sure that your program’s interests are being continually represented and supported.
    • Recruit a small group of music parents to share the duties of attending school board meetings. There is strength and courage in numbers! And that way, if you have to miss one, you know it’s covered.
    • Bonus points: wear your music department spirit wear! School board members really do notice who’s attending meetings and why.
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