Regarding Arts and Athletics in Schools

We live in a community that works together.

While the state’s leaders have turned their back on public education by reducing funding for schools to 2006 levels, the local community has stepped in to fill a gap in the lives of the 38,000 students in this county.

This past week, I participated in two events that were a combination of distress calls and opportunities for celebration. I want to first emphasize the positive aspects that we should all celebrate. I honor the collaborative spirit and support of the Santa Cruz County community, parents, students and educators who were responsible for organizing and contributing, time, talent and money to raise funds to not just aid but possibly save athletics and the arts programs in Santa Cruz County public schools.

On May 31, a committee of parents organized the Save Our Sports Campaign 5K Walk and Run to raise money for the athletics programs in eight schools in Santa Cruz County. The next two nights were committed to the Arts and Athletics Telethon on Community TV, an event organized by a concerned community to raise both funds and awareness of the importance of these activities and the very real possibility that such programs could disappear from our children’s school environments. Community support was outstanding but we are still far short of our goal to restore lost programs and sustain those that still exist.

California’s economic plight has hurt all sectors and affected all essential services of our society, but in terms of numbers and the effect upon the future, nowhere has this downturn wreaked more havoc and been more profound than in public education. The quality of our students’ education has been seriously compromised by California’s poor public policy decisions affecting school funding and if we continue down this path, this will be the case well into the future.

At a cost of only one to three percent, sometimes less, of a school’s overall budget, high school activity programs are one of the best bargains around. It is in these vital programs – sports, music, dance, speech, drama, debate – where young people learn lifelong lessons that compliment and, as research is proving, raise academic performance, improve attendance and lower drug use and dropout rates. We need these options to engage students in their educational careers. At a time when teachers are working extremely hard, test scores are improving, the dropout rate is decreasing, and there is heightened awareness of child health issues and school activities that facilitate the physical and emotional development of our young people, we cannot afford to remain silent. The public expects school leaders to instill in students the qualities that promote responsible adults, productive citizens and contributing members of society. The arts and athletics do foster qualities such as sportsmanship, teamwork, hard work, self-confidence, creativity, innovation, perseverance, and social responsibility.

Studies indicate that students who participate in the arts each week for even a year are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, win attendance and writing awards, participate in a science or math fair and are three times more likely to be elected to a class office.

The arts and sports – are they really extracurricular activities or are they inherently educational and basic to core curriculum?

We are in a fiscal crisis but, as evidenced by these events, Santa Cruz is not in a moral crisis. Thank you to the Santa Cruz Education Foundation, the many individual volunteers who organized and continue to organize fundraising campaigns, and to the community as a whole for coming together to solve this problem and save our students’ futures.