Art Education Matters

As a public school advocate and artist, of course my stance is that art education matters in educating the whole child. I hope they matter to you too. If they don’t, at the very least, I hope you’ll agree that a 12% compliance across school districts in the state of California in which it’s the law to have the arts in schools, means that we should probably be setting a better example. The law? Yes– Ed Code. Like math class. It’s the law to have math class in California schools too.

Just as much as the arts matter, funding for those art programs matter a lot too. That’s where it gets tricky. Even controversial. Definitely not equitable. Our school districts must start investing money in the arts— something that districts have side stepped for far too long. However, we can’t tip toe over this conversation anymore. After almost 18 months of traditional school being interrupted due to life in a pandemic, social emotional learning and equity have risen to the top of our priorities and at last, it’s time for the arts to take center stage. There has never been a time when our children needed the arts more in their lives.

What is Ed Code? “A collection of all the laws directly related to California K-12 public schools. Ed Code sections are created or changed by the governor and Legislature when they make laws. Local school boards and county offices of education are responsible for complying with these provisions.” (EdSource)

What does it say about Arts Education in California schools? California’s Education code promises visual art, music, dance, theater and media arts classes to each K-12 student.

Education Code Section 8811
Defines the “arts” to include the four disciplines of dance, drama and theatre, music, and visual arts as set forth in the state’s adopted curriculum framework for visual and performing arts.

Education Code Section 51210
(a) The adopted course of study for grades 1 to 6, inclusive, shall include instruction, beginning in grade 1 and continuing through grade 6, in the following areas of study … (e) Visual and performing arts, including instruction in the subjects of dance, music, theatre, and visual arts, aimed at the development of aesthetic appreciation and the skills of creative expression.
Education Code Section 51220
The adopted course of study for grades 7 to 12, inclusive, shall offer courses in the following areas of study: …
(g) Visual and performing arts, including dance, music, theatre, and visual arts, with emphasis upon development of aesthetic appreciation and the skills of creative expression.

The Problem? Even though section 51210(e) mandates the Visual and Performing Arts, long time art education advocate and teacher Carl Schafer shares with us, section 51050 states, “The governing board of every school district shall enforce in its schools the courses of study.” Therefore, no one is enforcing the law and holding school boards accountable. Carl Schafer goes on to share, “…to simply allow non-compliance with the California Education Code is unacceptable. We should teach our children that the arts matter. And so does the law.” (Carl Schafer)

The conversation we should all be having. What would it take for you to advocate to your school board that art is vital to educating the whole child? How would you feel if one day the school board said the district would no longer be teaching math or science…? We should feel no different regarding the absence of the arts in our classrooms.

Moving Forward.

Immediate response… Level the playing field with site specific Education Foundations. While these organizations are separate entities from the school district, school boards have a duty, which cannot be delegated to any citizen or group of citizens, to govern, manage and control the business of the district and the interests of its schools. While some schools receive a lot of money through parent donations, the reality is that many do not. We need a framework of “basics,” if you will, which ensures that all elementary schools (to start with) include investing in the arts by hiring art teachers. This will also address the topic of inequity. Currently, in our school district, these are all parent funded positions by money the district is gifted through Education Foundations- which it then hires for school sites. Often it’s a volunteer that likes to teach art but lacks certification, training or an understanding of the California Arts Curriculum.

Long term goal… Give every subject a line item allocation in the district budget. Transition from classified staff to certified staff for art teachers. Push the California Department of Education to re-evaluate it’s stance on enforcement linked to an equity issue. Create a formal complaint procedure process for teachers, parents and students to hold school boards accountable when need be.

What can you do right now? Many districts across the state of California are working on their strategic plan — plus! They have received federal and state Covid-19 relief money, some of which is to be used at their discretion. This presents an opportunity for you to reach out to your school board members and advocate for the arts. Align your thoughts with the goals in the strategic plan or mission of the school district. Ask your district to adopt a Declaration of Arts Education in Learning just like West Contra Costa’s Board of Education and school district did. You can find the complete document here.

Reach out to an art teacher in support and help facilitate the conversation about the arts in your area. Create opportunities for partnerships and be open to creative ideas that show promise not just for your child’s school, but for all of our California kids. Take it up a level and contact your state officials and ask them about Ed Codes, policy, enforcement and more funding for schools. When you factor in that if California were a country, it would be the 5th largest economy in the world and we rank near the bottom for funding for education, we owe it to all our California kids to do better.


  • California’s Education code promises visual art, music, dance, theater and media arts classes to each K-12 student, but only 12% of our schools are in compliance with that mandate. Source: Create California 
  • 89% of California K-12 schools fail to offer a standards-based course of study in all four disciplines—music, visual arts, theatre, and dance—and thus fall short of state goals for arts education. Source: Americans For The Arts
  • Find out how much California school districts and charter schools will get in Covid relief: EdSource  
  • To read more about the California Arts framework and standards: California Department of Education 
  • How to find your California Legislator: CA Gov
  • Researchers are finding that foundations, set up to raise money for public schools, are reintroducing funding inequality that was supposed to be eliminated back in the 1970s, when the California Supreme Court ruled on the Serrano vs. Priest case. Source: KPCC
  • Thus LEFs (Local Education Foundations) are adding inequality into an education finance system whose 1970s reforms were designed to promote equality and break the connection between wealth and education outcomes. Source: California Local Education Foundations 
  • State-by-State Guide for Arts Education Funding

Donum Date

Art + Wine + Open Air = worth the wait for one amazing date!

When fiction became reality, much waiting and hoping prevailed in the long months ahead for shelter in place. After over a year, my husband and I had our first date today. Covid numbers are finally lower in California and albeit it masking and social distancing will still remain for quite some time, things are opening up a bit more.

We had reservations at The Donum Estate (appointment only) located in Sonoma, California. Donum means “gift of land.” While my husband isn’t exactly someone that likes wine or art, he sure likes me– which made this experience all the more special.

Upon arrive, you need to be buzzed in after confirming your reservation. Prior to arrival, there is a Covid-19 screening and agreement you must fill out and sign. We were told to drive in and park in the guest lot where our host Philipe would meet us. Someone else would welcome us before Philipe though. As the gates slowly opened, Sanna by Jaume Plensa looked on.

Upon greeting us with a glass of Rose to kick off our tour and tasting, Philipe led us to our chariot. In this case an all-terrain vehicle for our “Explore Experience” to tour the open-air art sculpture collection.

One of the first sculptures, The Care of Oneself by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset,  was a reminder about why this day was so important for my husband and I; self care. Everyone is grieving something right now. Even when we know that we shelter in place and take precautions because we don’t only value our health, but the health of our community- doing the right thing does not mean that we do not feel the weight of the situation on our hearts. Often neglected in this experience is self care.

The next stop on our tour made my heart skip a beat as I felt a little star struck. I found myself like repeating “beautiful, beautiful…” many times over. “Love Me” by Richard Hudson did not disappoint.

Down and up the hillside we explored with Philipe and his trusty side kick Pancho (his dog).

For our private tasting, in the most serene outdoor setting, wine was paired with seasonal tastings from the working farm. Everything we tasted was designed to elevate and immerse our taste buds into the experience. It worked! This experience taught us the art of tasting.

If you haven’t been outside of the house in a really long time and you’re looking for a safe, open-air, fun adventure, I highly recommend booking a reservation at The Donum Estate. It was literally my husband, myself and our amazing host Philipe. Be sure to ask for Philipe too! We loved this experience, picked up a bottle to take home and look forward to celebrating here again. (One of the benefits of only living one hour away!) If you would like to learn more about the art and artists pictured, click here.


Back-to-School with Glasses and Water

Online, or rather Distance Learning for our kids this year means two super important items were added to personal our back-to-school supply list; Blue Blocking Glasses and a 64 ounce water bottle.

Blue blocking glasses protect eyes against harmful blue light and UV. Even at my age, I still have perfect vision. My kids recently had their vision tested and they have perfect vision too. So, I’m trying to do what I can to keep it that way. I picked up two pairs by Livho for $16.98. At that price, I’m not going to be worried if they lose them or break them– I can order more. Given their schedules require the to be online in front of a screen from 8:30a.m. to 2:45p.m., they will certainly come in handy. (I’ll leave healthy screen time thoughts for another post.)

Have you ever researched out much water you or your children should be consuming a day? (No, Diet Coke and coffee don’t count.) I recently came to learn that that at this age, my boys should be drinking 64-ounces of water a day. Of course, you can use a regular cup from the cabinet and drink water. However, I wanted something they could fill up before school starts each morning to give them a visual reminder to drink water while fostering independence (instead of Mom reminding them). It helps them be accountable for their own health. I came across a design by Opard for $14.99 that I love as it not only gives you a nudge as to when you should be drinking water to set you up for success but it gives you a little inspirational push.

In addition to these two deposits into their future health bank, because they are sitting so much while attending their online classes, as a general rule, it’s good to be mindful to move during the day. Even if that means standing while attending a Zoom meeting or taking a quick walk after lunch. That is if you have time to do so…

Speaking of such, if I had a magic wand, the one thing I would change about the Distance Learning schedule this year would be that our entire district gets one hour earmarked for lunch at the same time, regardless of grade level. Currently, they only get 30 minutes for lunch and my boys don’t even get to eat lunch together. I wish school districts would realize that lunch is more than just about eating. It’s a time to connect with others, a time to take a walk, a time to regroup and destress, a time to help prepare a fresh meal…time away from the screen.

I hope your school year is off to a great start and that these tips help set you up for a healthy new year chapter in the book of learning!

Protecting Instructional Minutes

Could you imagine a for profit company being given privilege to students during instructional time to teach their own curriculum, not acknowledged by the school district or state, diverting a students time at school for their own corporate agenda? We need to look no further than the recent congressional hearings that took place with Juul. Not only did Juul have it’s own set of curriculum for students, which we have since learned representatives said the e-cigarettes were ‘totally safe,’ in addition, schools accepted money from Juul. This is why as parents and educators, we need to be especially mindful about who has access to our most vulnerable population; our children. Spoiler Alert: We’re not only talking about Juul.
What happens when we replace the company Juul with any fundraiser held during instructional minutes at school? While many of us are familiar with what fundraising is, we are not so familiar with regulations or policies that govern fundraisers. Luckily, if you are in a state like California, Educational Code 51520 is mindful of protecting instructional time.
Protecting instructional minutes means that fundraisers do not interfere and disrupt students regular daily schedule.
Many school districts already have great policies and guides in place to empower leadership and parent organizations to make decisions vested in the best interest of students. School districts need to adhere to the law. In fact, Los Angeles Unified School District has created a guide for school leadership and volunteer groups to make sure all adhere to the law.

“Not During Instructional Time” (slide 12/27 of LAUSD’s Fundraising Policy) highlights that:
  • this applies to those fundraisers that claim to have an instructional component
  • P.E. is still instructional time (aka running laps during class for outside pledges)
We should always use caution when a company tells school leaders they are teaching character lessons to students. As Faith Boninger, a research associate at the National Education Policy Center said, “A lot of commercial programs that try to get into schools will claim to be consistent with Common Core, claim to be bringing education values, but they’re not promoting the democratically agreed upon curriculum. They’re coming in as opportunists.”
I’m certainly not advocating that we should banish all school fundraisers. I’m simply saying that we should not only adhere to the law, but be mindful of who we give access to our children during the school day. School fundraisers can boost school spirit while raising funds for school. Fundraising is a part of public school culture, one in which, for many schools in California generates funds to hire specialists and offer enrichment classes. Donations poor in throughout the year from Educational Foundations and PTA’s with dedicated volunteers that collect money from parents and community members in hopes of providing a quality educational experience for students. The problem occurs when organizations aren’t aware of the law. That’s when the school district needs to to step up and empower those groups or be held accountable.

It’s For The Kids.

Back when I was on the executive board of the PTA at my son’s elementary school in Minnesota, I’ll never forget what someone said in regard to fundraisers, “We don’t pimp out our kids.” See, as a PTA, we were flooded with companies trying to get into our school to sell their products and host events. Our principal fully understood he was the gatekeeper of our school for these companies- something he didn’t take lightly. Our PTA knew that while money was important to support the school, we would never do so at a price that jeopardized our ethics, school mission and district policy.

That’s why it’s such a shock to me to learn that my son’s school entered a contract with a company called Apex. Apex is a for profit company that takes almost 50% of what children earn in pledges. The National Education Policy Institute and Charity Navigator do not have a favorable view of this company. (NBC San Diego actually did a segment on the company which you can view here.) The company inoculates the school campus for 8-9 days selling its message direct to students under “character lessons” in which classroom time is interrupted. It is also at this time when Apex awarded prizes to children in front of their classmates for earning pledges.

Students receive a code from Apex at school with directions for their parents to register them online with Apex. Every child, according to the teacher’s name can be viewed not only by parents and teachers, but the company Apex as well as its employees. This is how they know who to award prizes according to the leader board and how much everyone has raised. Not only is this a directory concern, this also creates an environment that encourages competition and disregards socio-economic diversity within our school community. This is direct from Apex’s website under frequently asked questions:

If I share from one student’s page, will my donors see all the students together with the same link? Will both students get credit?
ANSWER: Yes! When you Add Students, all sharing is now as a family. Regardless of whose page is shared, donors will see a combined page with all students names and pictures, and each of your students will receive credit for those shares (for instance, if you share 10 emails on the Get Pledges tab, both students earn 10 shares and the share prize at school).

The employees of Apex are given privilege to roam the campus and interact with children during lunch and recess daily prior to the actual race day –this includes a 3-hour pep rally during school to get everyone pumped up. As a community, it was not communicated with parents that the employees of this company would be interacting with our children daily -beyond the “character lessons” and the pep rally—at their lunch and recess too. There was no transparency in regard to the background of this company, how much a percentage they would be earning or the liberty they would have on campus.

Since we reached out to the principal and shared our views on this company and how we didn’t feel comfortable with people from this for profit company interacting with our child, we asked if there was an opt out form. This made it especially difficult because the principal was allowing this to happen during school hours. Opting out meant that our child was isolated into another classroom for Apex’s daily interruptions.

I was not alone in my concern. I later learned that many of our community members questioned why we were allowing this, who approved it and that “it felt really odd” for all these people to be roaming our school and interacting with the kids. I heard stories about how one child in a was crying because she didn’t get a prize. So, another little girl, showing empathy gave her the prize Apex awarded her with- and then she felt sad because she didn’t have a prize. Another person shared with me how their son came home begging them to pledge another five dollars. “Just five dollars more, Mommy. Remember, it’s not just for me, but for “X” because he’s in a wheelchair and will be able to play at our new playground.” That parent said what was really disturbing about that was that her first grader didn’t come up with that on his own- someone told him that. My own child shared with me how he returned back to the classroom and his friend came up to him with a cowboy hat Apex just awarded her, “My parents paid a lot of money so I could win this.” What exactly are the character lessons they are providing?

When it comes to fundraising, it’s important for school districts to have a plan to help principals and PTA’s navigate these waters in the best interest of all students:

  • How do we demonstrate that these for profit companies are fully compliant with district policies? Specifically, in regard to student privacy and safety.
  • Does the district have a long term and short term data sharing policy with commercial entities?
  • What is the framework for engaging these commercial entities and who governs this?
  • Does the district have a policy that governs how this type of engagement should be broadly shared, in transparency, with the community?
  • How do we ensure that students that elect not to participate in these activities don’t loose out on school time? Why would a fundraiser like Apex happen on school time?
  • How can we safeguard the social and emotional well being of all children involved?

Character Education is rooted in Community, not Corporate agenda. We need to think very carefully about who we give access to our children and schools to.