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What Works in Letters to Elected Officials

By Kathryn Arnett
 
I have written many letters to elected representatives in my life. But while interning at the California State Capitol one summer, I had the chance to be on the other side reading those letters. Seeing the hundreds of emails and mailed letters that come to a State Senator on any given day, I learned what kinds of letters are most effective and influence representatives most. 

When I was interning at the Capitol, there was talk that the education budget would get a major overhaul—and potentially receive much more funding than in recent years. So, we saw a lot of letters come in asking the legislature to invest more in education. Many came in bulk, and those I do not remember. The letters that stood out to me, and to my boss and the staff, were personalized. 

I remember one letter in particular from a concerned mother with a son in elementary school in Los Angeles. She shared the story of how cuts to the budget had affected her and her child. He was less engaged in school because classes like Physical Education had been cut. When she walked through his school she saw broken and deteriorating facilities, and wished her child could have something better. She asked for an investment in schools because she cared about her son’s education, and knew more funding would help. 

This woman used a basic form letter for the bulk of her message, but she also took the time to tell her story—and it made a world of difference. 
You don’t have to write a three-part saga to create an effective letter. Here are three easy things you can do to make sure your message packs the most punch: 

Get the Student Voices Classroom Guide

The Student Voices Campaign (SVC) invites young people to create videos that show their creativity and passion for the arts and share them with elected officials. 

California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) guarantees students a voice in planning and budgeting for their school district.  SVC provides a pathway for students to realize the role envisioned for them in LCFF community engagement guidelines. 
 
With support from the California Arts Council, this fall, the California Alliance for Arts Education will release the Student Voices Classroom Guide and we are looking for teachers grades 7–12 to use it in their classrooms during the 2015–16 school year. The lessons can be scaled to unfold over two weeks or to be pursued more deeply over several months.  

The guide will equip teachers to use the campaign as project-based learning opportunity that offers students a real-world opportunity to author content, communicate creatively and practice civic engagement. The lessons will use California Social Studies Standards and National Core Media Arts Standards to structure the process, outcomes and assessment; other Arts and Common Core Standards will also be referenced as appropriate.
 
PILOT THE GUIDE IN YOUR CLASSROOM: Download our flyer with more details. 
 
GET THE GUIDE: To get an electronic copy of the guide when it's ready, please click here.
 
QUESTIONS: contact us
 
 

Anaheim: Arts Education & Student Success Go Hand in Hand

This week, Anaheim Unified High School was chosen as a Gold Ribbon School for demonstrating exemplary achievements in implementing California’s academic content standards and, the district also received recognition for having an “Exemplary Program in Arts Education, Career Technical Education, or Physical Activity and Nutrition.” According to Shanin Zeimer, a parent, PTA member and local organizer for our Local Advocacy Network, the district has a strong commitment to the visual and performing arts that goes hand in hand with overall student success.

Numerous research studies suggest a correlation between access to high quality arts education and student success. Student involvement in the arts is linked to higher academic performance, increased standardized test scores, greater involvement in community service and lower dropout rates.[i]

So how can community members work to build a high quality arts program in their district? Shanin Zeimer and Pat Wayne, Field Manager for the Local Advocacy Network and Program Director for CREATE CA offered the following suggestions:

Mission Possible: Napa County Alliance for Arts Education

The Challenge: To launch a countywide advocacy effort with multiple partners and stakeholders who have diverse goals and little to no bandwidth to ‘start something new’

The Strategy: Define your terms: Know your mission; educate your stakeholders about what advocacy is… and isn’t.

Your District Superintendent: A Key Ally for Arts Education

"Your district superintendent is the person who knows and understands what's happening on a day to day basis in each school in the district. He or she is responsible for implementing programs.[…] [and] oftentimes their voice is the one the SB hears the loudest or that carries the most weight.”

In this month’s blog from our Local Advocacy Network, advocates from the San Luis Obispo Alliance for Arts Education explain how and why they worked with the district superintendent in Paso Robles in this brief video blog

 

Why a District Arts Plan Still Matters

The Challenge: How to build a district wide arts program starting now.

The Strategy: A district arts plan builds broad support and maps a path for incremental, but sustained growth.

The Story: California’s state education code requires that students receive K-12 instruction in visual arts, music, theater and dance. Yet, during years of tough financial times, many schools were forced to cut their arts programs. During the lean years, advocates in Orange County (OC) undertook a systematic effort to pass district arts plans that means as new funding comes in, both a commitment and a plan are in already place.

Launch of Online Guide Put Arts Integration within Reach of Title 1 Schools

The California Alliance for Arts Education has launched a new online resource to support arts integration programs at low-income schools. The website guides Title I school leaders through a rigorous process to plan and evaluate arts strategies that can help achieve the goals of the Title I program.

“Arts programs can help schools achieve the aims of Title I by facilitating student engagement and learning, strengthening parent involvement, and improving school climate and school wide behavior,” according to the website live at http://www.title1arts.org.

Art in District LCAPs: Tools and Best Practices


Each June, every school district in California is required to submit a three year Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) as part of the state's new school funding formula. New resources from the California Alliance, Arts for LA and Arts for All offer a look at trends in the ways that districts are investing in arts education and a closer look at a few strong examples from actual LCAPs and how advocacy played a role in these districts. 

Arts for LA and LA County Arts Commission Arts for All have released findings from a research initiative analyzing all 81 school district LCAPs in LA County. The research provides baseline information on the number of districts that included the arts in their LCAPs, which state priority areas are linked to the arts, and the types of arts programs being funded at schools. The findings will also provide a broad sense of trends for how arts education strategies are being used by school districts. 


How SF Arts Advocates Leveraged Support for Ballot Measure

How SF Arts Advocates Leveraged Support for Ballot Measure

Challenge: Persuade city officials to introduce and support a ballot initiative to fund arts education, libraries and sports.  

Strategy: The San Francisco Alliance for Arts Education authored a white paper that decision-makers clear, sound arguments for amending a funding policy and putting it on the November 2014 ballot.

CREATE California Statewide Convening

CREATE CA January 30 & 31

We’re kicking off 2015 with a statewide convening of CREATE California to ignite collective impact and expand arts and creativity in California schools. Join us in Oakland on January 30 & 31, 2015 for workshop sessions, policy briefings and conversations to open up new opportunities for collaboration. We will be joined by Governor Jerry Brown, Apple University’s Randy Nelson, as well as students from the Oakland School for the Arts and the San Francisco Student Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble.

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