Getting Dance into Schools
McGreevy-Nichols, Susan, Dance Teacher
Want to improve dance education in your state? Here's how.
Last month, we focused on the status of dance education in Ohio, a state that really has its act together. This month, we'll discuss how you can get your state to adopt the same sort of measures.
How do you get sequential K-12 dance education mandated? How do you put dance standards and a system of assessments in place? How do you get the government to provide teaching certification that includes coursework and ongoing professional development opportunities? Or what if you want to institute a graduation requirement that mandates all students to have a certain number of credits in the arts upon completing high school? And where can you look for funding to back all this up? Here are a few key ways that dance educators and arts advocates across the nation are approaching these challenges.
Go Straight To The Top
Appealing directly to policymakers is one way that dance educators and those concerned with the quality of dance education in their state are tackling the issue. In fact, it's one of the best ways, according to Sherri Brown, education director of the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, a state agency that deals with budget recommendations. "When you attempt to change statewide policy, it's important to link to a legitimate source of authority so that your recommendations will carry some weight," she says. "The source of authority in each state is different. In the case of Rhode Island, RISCA has been working with the governor on how the arts contribute to the economy of the state."
In 1999, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Almond and his cabinet, including the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, initiated a policy forum on the arts that examined the benefits of the arts across departments, among them K12 education. According to Brown, it was the positive working relationship that RISCA developed with the governor that led to his willingness to create a task force to investigate how the arts could affect the state's education reform. "He was willing to create this task force at the request of the larger community, once the relationships had been built with his office and a case for need made," she affirms. "In Rhode Island, the state's arts council and the K-12 education department acted as co-conveners on behalf of the governor's office, bringing together a broad array of constituents. The Rhode Island Office of Higher Education became a third state policy partner during the process." The lesson here: Find out who the arts advocates in your state government are and keep in touch.
Join A Service Group
Sometimes, change can occur as a result of the actions taken by a small group of individuals whose priority is reform. Grassroots efforts can be very effective as they gradually gain momentum. In the state of Maine, a small group was instrumental in pushing dance education to the top of the Department of Education's and the Maine Arts Council's agendas. Eight individuals-dance professionals, physical educators, dance educators, arts administrators and one music educator-came together to create the Dance Education in Maine Schools committee. Their goat was to address the growing need to provide professional development workshops in dance to classroom teachers, promote the notion that every child in Maine schools has a right to a quality dance education within the school cutriculum and provide visible leadership in the field.
"Since its inception, DEMS has written the Maine Dance Curriculum Guide, now in its second edition; held two statewide conferences on dance education; and provided numerous professional development workshops," says DEMS President Ann Ross. "Two years ago, we initiated dance education certification through the Maine Department of Education. We are now overcoming the final hurdles of state approval. …