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Education

After school arts tries to fill a void, but is it enough?



Los Angeles Unified students involved in LA's BEST's After School Arts Program compete in a Dance and Drill Team Competition at Cal State LA.
Los Angeles Unified students involved in LA's BEST's After School Arts Program compete in a Dance and Drill Team Competition at Cal State LA.
Photo Courtesy of Ben Gibbs
Los Angeles Unified students involved in LA's BEST's After School Arts Program compete in a Dance and Drill Team Competition at Cal State LA.
Mario Davila leads an orientation for after school arts instructors in Boyle Heights. During the 2014/2015 school year, 190 schools in Los Angeles Unified will get LA's BEST arts programs.
Mary Plummer/KPCC
Los Angeles Unified students involved in LA's BEST's After School Arts Program compete in a Dance and Drill Team Competition at Cal State LA.
Students from LA's BEST's After School Arts Program at UCLA's Royce Hall.
Photo Courtesy of Ben Gibbs


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When Los Angeles students get ready to head back to school next week, many of them won't get arts instruction. 

Despite a requirement in the state's education code which requires that students have school day access to four different art forms (dance, visual arts, music and theater) each year from 1st through twelfth grade, L.A. Unified doesn't make the grade.

To help fill the gap, a public-private partnership called LA's BEST  provides after school arts instruction to 7,600 elementary students at 190 different schools across the district.

"Many times when we go out to a school the principals will tell us that they've lost their arts programming during the regular school day. And that the only arts education programing the children are getting are the programs that we're bringing in through LA's Best," said Mario Davila, director of LA's BEST's After School Arts Program, which also brings science, sports and many other programs to Title 1 schools after the final bell.

LA's BEST gives students 19 lessons, with a culminating event like a show, at the end. Students get instruction in everything from theater to dance to drum lessons, as well as things like digital animation.

But educators said there are important differences between arts access delivered during the school day and after school.

For one, various grades mesh together in after school programs. It's hard to accommodate all the different skill levels and there's much less of a focus on sequential arts learning that builds year to year. Plus, there's the simple challenge of being sleepy — some teachers said it's hard for kids to concentrate after spending an entire day learning other subjects. 

"They're often tired," said Theater instructor Melanie MacQueen. "A lot has been demanded of them all day."

She's one of 60 instructors teaching after school this year for LA's BEST.

Los Angeles Unified officials plan to restore nearly $16 million in funding for regular arts instruction during the next three school years.

The school board has also approved a plan to make the arts a core subject that every student would have access to during the school day — but it's yet to be implemented.

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