MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
Studies have shown that arts education is not only a central part of the solution to the crisis in schools, it improves school and society while inspiring creativity.
Arts education advances emotional balance and helps students become team players. Research shows it can connect children with a community and that it plays an integral part in their lives. It not only provides support and structure that might be lacking, but it is also a safe space for children to be supported. Other attributes include a decreased feeling of depression.
That’s why CREATE CA, a coalition that uses the California Alliance for Arts Education, advocates for high-quality arts education for all students by providing policy expertise and by mobilizing a statewide network of advocates.
Fortunately, arts education in California classrooms is receiving some much-needed attention from a group of educators, artists and business leaders through CREATE CA.
For the past two years, the group has worked strategically throughout the state to foster a renaissance in arts education for California schools.
These efforts are building from the foundational work completed by California’s team to the 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Education Leaders Institute.
California’s six-member team developed a challenge statement to guide its work. California should “ensure each student reaches his or her full potential by broadening California’s educational vision, policy and practices to promote innovation, economic development and creativity.”
Caitlin Lainoff is CREATE CA’s youth engagement manager. She wanted to work with the organization because “Their mission is close to my heart.”
Lainoff, 40, said CREATE CA fights for equitable change in public schools through a variety of avenues like legislation. It also supports advocacy efforts for students and adults by trying to build a community.
“We want [students] to recognize they have support,” said Lainoff, who has been with the organization for four years. “We have training and funding. We provide stipends to support their work.”
An Alexandria, Virginia native, Lainoff said there is a real need for school boards to understand the importance of arts education and that the community’s voice on the issue is vital.
“It’s a combination of things,” she said. “The community has to speak out about what they need. Arts education is a solution to some problems. It can be a solution partner. If the school board isn’t hearing concerns from the community, they may not think it’s an important enough issue.”
CREATE CA mobilizes a statewide network of advocates and allied partners. Lainoff said the mobilization process varies.
“If we have a bill, we mobilize to make sure they are voting,” Lainoff said. “There is a tool on our website that allows the community to reach out to their school board. We have a letter on social-emotional learning.”
She stressed that anyone can help nurture the creativity and imagination that lives in children.
“It’s multi-faceted,” she said. “A letter to a school board member can go a long way. It’s important to recognize what they are doing and tell them to keep supporting a child’s creativity. Recognizing the arts is what’s going to bring us together.”
CREATE CA is instituting a first-of-its-kind paid arts education activism internship.
The program will convene and support students as they engage with their school board members, administrators and community leaders.
About 100 students applied for the program by submitting a mixed application that included written and standard demographic questions.
“We prioritized students who had the strongest message,” Lainoff said. “We were looking for someone who had the strongest advocacy focus. It was hard.”
Lainoff said the program’s focus was “to work with students who want to create change in their districts.”
Lainoff said they found what they were looking for in Los Angeles County High School for the Arts student Jordan Plange.
“His focus is creating more equitable access to the school he goes to,” Lainoff said. “He’s a Black dancer who is also interested in graphic design and film.”
Plange, 16, will join a cohort of students advocating for change across California and within his community of Leimert Park.
“Students deserve a meaningful seat at the table and we know that school board members can be strong partners,” said CREATE CA Executive Director Tom DeCaigny. “Students are the primary stakeholders in California’s education system and we’re honored to lift up the voices of these advocates as they fight for education equity.”
Plange says he has always been interested in his community.
“In school, I had been president my sophomore year,” he said. “I’ve planned events at school. This internship allows me to explore my activism more. It became more important for me to get involved after George Floyd. So, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Plange already has plans for Black History Month next February.
“For the second year, I’m going to be doing a Black History Month panel where we ask Black creatives to be part of a panel,” Plange said. “We then come up with free thought questions. So far, we’ve had a musician, a film director and a playwright. The Black History Month panel is what I wrote about on my application.”
Plange is currently developing a mini-magazine where “people can creatively express themselves,” and is also developing a bus program to help get students back and forth to the school, which is located on the campus of Cal State Los Angeles.
“I’m working out the kinks,” he said.
“Taking on challenges, whether they be creatively, mentally or physically and creating effective change is what fulfills him most,” Lainoff said. “He is excited to continue the journey with CREATE CA and bring positive change to the accessibility of arts education. Leimert Park has a powerful advocate working to center students as impactful decision-makers.”
“Everything about Leimert Park inspires my graphic design,” Plange said. “I think about the architecture, the windows. It’s a great, creative place.”
Plange said the internship is going to allow him to delve into his activism more and provide him with some guidelines into what he wants to do in the future.
“It’s a guide,” he said. “It will help me maneuver through my ideas. When I found out that I would be working with CREATE CA, I was super duper excited.”
Lainoff said Plange is an excellent choice.
“He had a strong message of why he wanted to participate,” she said. “He talked about bringing equity to the forefront. For Black History Month, he even created a panel of Black artists. Jordan is dedicated to CREATE CA’s mission of creating and maintaining real-world change to address the pervasive racial inequities in our educational system.”
Lainoff said every student is going to speak to the school board to work on developing goals and concepts of change they want to see.
“Then we will bring in speakers,” she said. “We will bring in another advocate. There will be voice training and speaker presentations. The students will take all that and do a formal presentation to the school board.”
A Student Voices campaign which runs yearly and is open to grades 7-12, sparked the internship.
“Students submitted a piece of work about how the arts have changed their lives,” said Lainoff. “Then they sent it to us and we sent it to the school board member. They advocated directly from school to school board. It’s for all California public schools. We want students to know they have a voice. It’s as easy as sending an email to their school board member.”
The deadline to enter the campaign is Feb. 7. Winners will be announced in the spring. There will be three submission prizes. Winners will receive an arts package and a $500 cash prize.
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to email@example.com.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.