Nonprofits and parents step in to bring music back following LAUSD program cuts

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When district officials moved Wilshire Crest Elementary School's orchestra teacher to a different campus in January, the school of about 250 students in mid-city Los Angeles was left without any dedicated arts instruction.

Now, following reporting by KPCC and efforts launched by parent Jocelyn Duarte, Wilshire Crest students have access to a patchwork of instruction that's helping to fill the void.

The non-profit Adopt the Arts, which partners with the Los Angeles Unified School District, is coming to the school once a week, offering an arts curriculum to every student that includes music theory, world music and vocal music. LA's BEST has also brought in a 10-week after school percussion program that's serving 40 of the school's K-5th graders. 

"It's positive," Duarte said. "But I feel that it would be so much more stronger if LAUSD, if our district, provided what each child is entitled to receive."

RELATED: Teachers: LA schools' arts education budget 'a step in the wrong direction'

The percussion program was added to Wilshire Crest after Mario Davila, LA's BEST's after school arts program director, heard about the fate of the school's orchestra teacher on KPCC. 

"There's such a huge need out there and the more that we can do, the better," Davila said.

Davila arranged to return music to the school as soon as possible after learning they'd lost access. He said there wasn't enough room to accommodate all the students at Wilshire Crest who wanted to attend the LA's BEST percussion program. His organization serves 194 high poverty Title I schools in the district, offering a variety of after school programs which regularly have waiting lists, according to Davila.

"We wish we could enroll more students at every site," he said. 

Wilshire Crest's former orchestra teacher Ginny Atherton now works at Avalon Gardens Elementary School in South Los Angeles.  It's one of several schools on her roster, since she is a traveling teacher.  It's a move district officials said was necessary to maintain equity across the district.

Atherton praised the programs that have popped up since she left Wilshire Crest, but said she can't stop thinking about the students who had their orchestral music education cut short and had to give back their instruments. Stopping and starting music classes is a hardship, since continuity, according to Atherton, is essential to building sequential skills in the arts. Students had signed out instruments, expecting to keep them for the entire school year, but had to return them when the orchestra program was cut.

"That they have other activities that are musical is absolutely phenomenal," Atherton said, of Wilshire Crest. "But it doesn't replace the arts education branch music educators."

KPCC asked Wilshire Crest's principal, Carolyn Mayes-Taylor to give her perspective on access to arts instruction at her school, but she didn't respond to requests for comment.

In October 2012, the LA Unified School Board voted to make the arts a core subject - on par with things like math and history. But the district has had an ongoing struggle to provide arts access for all of its 651,000 students.

News of the changes in arts programs, which LAUSD officials said was a result of shifting enrollment numbers, came in the final weeks of last semester. 40 schools received an additional day of arts instruction and 20 schools lost a day. The shift came as a shock to many teachers and parents. Elementary orchestra has traditionally been a year-long program in the district. 

District officials provided KPCC with the following list of schools that lost arts instruction:

  • Apperson Elementary
  • Broadway Elementary
  • Danube Elementary
  • Glassell Park Elementary
  • La Salle Elementary
  • Murchison Elementary
  • Albion Elementary
  • Alta Loma Elementary
  • Barton Hill Elementary
  • Budlong Elementary
  • Danny J. Bakewell, Senior, Primary Center 
  • Elysian Heights Elementary
  • Hawaiian Elementary
  • Hooper Elementary
  • Lake Street Primary School
  • Laurel Elementary
  • Normandie Elementary
  • Ricardo Lizarraga Elementary
  • Vinedale Elementary
  • Wilshire Crest Elementary

Additional attempts to restore instruction

Alongside the efforts launched by Adopt the Arts and LA's BEST, the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council provided Wilshire Crest's PTA with $500 in grant funding for the arts. Duarte and other parents at the school hope to use that money to start an arts fund to help supplement school offerings when the district doesn't provide arts access. But Wilshire Crest may not see the return of a year-long orchestra program.

The district has proposed splitting its 32 full-time equivalent elementary instrumental teacher positions among 320 schools for the 2014-2015 school year. Under that plan, no school would get more than one semester of instrumental access.

"That is completely devastating to me as a parent," Duarte said. 

Pass/Fail will continue to follow changes to arts education in the LAUSD.  If you have updates or information to share about access to arts in the schools,  send an email to mplummer@kpcc.org

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