There’s not enough time in the day! How to find time in the schedule for arts.

The Challenge: Middle and high school students simply don’t have time in their schedules for arts education courses

The Strategy: Adopt a master schedule that ensures that every student can take arts classes

The Story: Middle and high school students have many competing priorities that quickly fill their course schedules: in addition to core academic courses, Advanced Placement courses, instruction for English language learners, academic intervention, and special education instruction all can take up precious time in a student’s schedule. All too often, when school counselors create schedules that accommodate required courses and the unique academic circumstances of each student, arts courses—visual art, music, dance, theatre—get cut from student schedules because there simply is not enough time in the day. How can schools create more time in the schedule so that students have access to valuable arts education opportunities and are able to fulfill the "F" Requirement? The answer is not actually more time, but instead a shift in the master schedule!

Steve Venz, Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator at the Orange County Department of Education, has extensive experience creating master schedules that facilitate participation in arts education classes. Typical middle and high schools have schedules that include 6 periods per day. Unfortunately, this 6 period schedule does not accommodate the needs of students who want to take arts courses. According to Steve Venz, there are three particularly beneficial models that can open up student schedules and create time in the school day for the arts.

Master Scheduling Solutions for Arts Education:

1. A/B Block Schedule: Students take 8 courses total, with 4 periods on A-Day and 4 periods on B-day. This schedule creates at least one open period-every other day-for arts courses.

2. Seven Period Day: An additional period added to the master schedule allows students to attend arts courses as well as special education, intervention and English language courses.

3. Six Period Day Plus Optional Zero Period or 7th Period: Students can take their gym class during zero period to free up a period during the school day. Alternatively, arts courses can be scheduled during an optional 7th period which reduces the number of scheduling conflicts for students.

Yolanda Gardea, Principal of Van Nuys High School, has first-hand experience with how a change in the master schedule can increase enrollment in arts courses. Two years ago, Principal Gardea oversaw the addition of an optional 7th period, after the traditional 6 period school day. The drama teacher at the school switched to teaching 2nd to 7th period and the marching band instructor was provided a stipend to work the additional period. Shifting the drama and music courses to the optional 7th period allowed students to receive credit for participating in school theatre productions and created flexibility for students with very full schedules. Pleased with the change, Principal Gardea says the new schedule is “helping, serving, and meeting the needs of as many kids as we can.”

Decisions about scheduling happen at both the school and district level but there are several ways parents can advocate for scheduling that is advantageous to arts participation.   

The Role of Parents:

1. IEP Meeting: Parents of students with an IEP (Individualized Education Program), can advocate for the inclusion of arts in this plan and ensure their children are able to include arts courses in their schedule

2. ELAC Meetings: Parents can attend ELAC (English Learner Advisory Committee) meetings to advocate for role of the arts in language acquisition and the importance of ensuring English language learners have access to arts courses in their schedules

3. Meet with School Counselor: Parents can meet with the school counselor to ensure the counselor is prioritizing access to the arts when helping the student select courses

4. Write a Letter to Principal: Parents who have concerns about the master schedule at their child’s school can reach out to the principal before the end of the school year. The scheduling process generally begins in February and is completed in May, prior to the end of the academic year.

Changes in the school or course scheduling can also have a positive impact on access to arts education for elementary students. Last month on the Local Advocacy Blog, we featured a creative scheduling solution in elementary schools that allows all students to receive music instruction. All elementary schools located in the Orcutt Union School District implemented a schedule rotation of P.E., music and intervention to achieve smaller class size and arts instruction for all students. Learn more about that story here. Similarly, in the Irvine Unified School District, grade level teachers needed a time to meet all together and this scheduling challenge was resolved by including music instruction in the elementary schedule. In 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, all students now receive music instruction together, twice a week, therefore allowing grade level teachers to meet.

To learn more about ways to advocate for arts education in schools visit the California Alliance for Arts Education Action Center.