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A Student Perspective on Staffing Cuts to the Center School’s Arts Program.

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photo courtesy of Ted Zee

Through most of middle school I was homeschooled. I was artistic and I didn’t learn in a conventional way.

I hated public schools and thought I’d never go back to them. Then towards the end of my 7th grade year, we found The Center School, and immediately started making plans to enroll. My mother passed away a few months later, and even in the months leading up to it she was so excited for me to go somewhere where I could express myself through art and learn in a way that would work for me.

I started taking classes at The Center School in early October of 2013. I immediately got immersed in the arts integration the school featured, and though I struggled with many classes, I always succeeded in Visual Communications, an introductory art class taught by Kevin McCarthy, a professional sculptor, painter, and digital artist with a passion for teaching and art like I’d never seen before.

Mr. McCarthy once called my father after school, my dad was obviously alarmed, he figured I was in trouble. To his surprise Kevin said, “Y’know, tonight I had to make some calls to parents about how bad their kids are. How disrespectful or whatever. But that gets depressing so every couple phone calls I call a parent to tell them the opposite.” He spent a couple minutes praising my art skills to my father. I’ve heard the same story from other students, a girl in my class cried when it happened, saying “It was the first time a teacher had ever told her I was good at something” as she sniffled.

But as of recently this school, and this amazing man have run into some trouble. Enrollment is dropping for some reason, and as a result the school is receiving less funding. They send a certain amount of cash per student, and this system is designed for schools with upwards of 800 kids, not less than 250.

As a result the school has had to make some tough calls. They had to figure out what to do. What to cut, what to change. My American Studies Teacher, Andrew Bell said of the meetings where this voting happened, “I have never been in a room where the air was more tense and thick”. The drop in funding is forcing the school to cut or at least limit the fine arts curriculum of the school.

As of the current plan, AP Art, Adv. Drawing and Painting, and Sculpture could be cut, and by extension, Kevin McCarthy, a teacher who changed my perspective of art classes, and changed another student’s perspective of her academic self, may have to leave forever.

There was a stirring in the school when this info started to trickle out. Kids were mad, kids were sad, kids were confused. I was all of the above and more.
I got tired of inaction so I made an impulsive and simple decision. I made a facebook event encouraging students to walk out of the school in solidarity, sign a petition saying they want the arts back, and march to the district headquarters to deliver it. Within a few hours over a sixth of the school was on board.

From there I started canvassing the school at lunch. I had just finished getting my 75th signature when I got in touch with a group of other students. Ella, Christine, Isabelle, and Reilly, a group of Sophomores who I didn’t know very well. They told me that they though my walkout sounded a bit drastic and harsh, they wanted to come at the problem from a more diplomatic and reasonable angle. We argued, discussed, and eventually decided to work together.

We five formed a group called the CSCAF, the Committee of Students Concerned About Funding. We’re coordinating hundreds of angry and confused students, giving them information, helping them work together, and helping them let their voices be heard.

A group of students are working on a press release, another is working on a documentary film, more are making art, and even more are planning a benefit event.

Currently we’re planning the walkout, trying to make it as safe, coordinated, and effective as possible. It will be on: May 3rd at 9:00 AM (30 minutes after school starts)

From there we’ll hop on the Streetcar and make our way to the Seattle Public Schools Building and present them with our demands and signatures.

At the core of the whole thing is a passion for art, a passion for learning, and a need to feel listened to. We want our school to get the money it needs to function at full power. We want to have a voice in how the money the school receives is spent.
And we want Kevin to stay, damn it.

-By Frank Hillary, Grade 11 at Center School

One comment on “A Student Perspective on Staffing Cuts to the Center School’s Arts Program.

  1. Paul Tumey
    May 3, 2016

    I appreciate the chance to read this well-written perspective. I am impressed with the commitment of these students to the arts in education. I think the Committee of Students Concerned About Funding (CSCAF) is an idea that could have functionality beyond tackling this current challenge. If young adults want to have a voice in matters that directly impact them at school, and they are willing to be responsible, reasonable, and committed, then I say more power to them. Frank Hillary is right — these students need to be heard.
    As a parent, I’d also like to say we have a student at Center and I have observed some good teaching and mentorship from Kevin McCarthy. I’m selfishly sorry to hear he may be moving on, whatever the reason may be.
    What message are we sending to our students and our community if we cut arts programs and gifted teachers from the region’s only arts-based high school?
    The City of Seattle is a vital, thriving center for the arts. It’s ironic — and somewhat baffling — that the cultural center of our city, a place where the Dale Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, the EMP, Folklife, Bumbershoot, Short Run, and countless fine arts performances, cultural events, and films are enjoyed has at its heart a fine little high school that can’t get the modest funding they need to TEACH art and music!
    I was at a meeting recently, held in a concerned parent’s home, where parents, students, and the school principal were discussing what could be done. At some point, someone asked, sadly — as if they already knew the answer, “is it too much to ask for, in addition to an advanced art class, a music class?” No one seemed happy to face the rather depressing and sad reality that this school, mere feet away from the EMP that has a permanent exhibit devoted to Seattle high schooler Jimi Hendrix, doesn’t and can’t have music classes.
    Obviously, the various arts centers and events at the Seattle Center are not financially connected to the school system. I would suggest, however, they are connected in spirit. How could a student attend school in one of the country’s hubs of creative energy and not be affected? If we allow arts programs to continue to be underfunded and slashed at The Center School, we are missing a bet.
    The principal told us about her efforts a few years ago to make possible a humble beginning guitar class, taught at the EMP. Hearing about this made my heart ache. I had no idea. The senior class president was at the meeting, and the principal looked at her and asked, “Do you know anyone who took that class?” The 12th grader replied, “Yes, me! That class changed my life.” She is now in a band.
    I am for teaching arts in ALL of our schools. However, as Frank Hillary points out, the Center School is a small school, and the system is set-up to provide adequate resources for larger schools. This means the little guy is falling through the cracks, and need some help.
    I am suggesting that, beyond letting our students down — which is a disgrace, the cutting of arts programs at Center School reflects badly on ALL of Seattle. We aren’t walking our talk if we tout our commitment to the arts, but can’t muster a teacher’s salary to back that up. Some of the young adults sitting at high school desks today are tomorrow’s artists, writers, designers, filmmakers, rock stars, dancers, musicians, and we need them to have arts classes in high school. It’s just common sense.
    The school’s administration and the PTSA are working hard to provide a full range of arts classes at Center — but it’s clear from where I sit they can only stretch a dollar so far. I ask my fellow parents and Seattle citizens to give this matter your kind attention. Frank Hillary and their co-students have a voice. So do we. Let’s use it.

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