Editor’s note: The following was sent to the Edmonds School Board and Superintendent, and has been published here with permission.
I am writing to express how deeply concerned I am about the Edmonds School District budget cuts proposal for next year and the deep impacts they would have on the performing arts across our school district. As a parent, an Edmonds-Woodway High School graduate and Edmonds Arts Commission Scholarship recipient, a former K-12 music educator for the Edmonds School District, and the owner of Alley Bell Music in downtown Edmonds with many music students attending schools in our district, I believe that these cuts will have a devastating impact on the students who participate in our performing arts programs across the district.
The COVID-19 pandemic was devastating to the performing arts, with our subjects being some of the last to be allowed to return to an in-person model of learning. Middle school and high school band, choir and orchestra programs have been struggling to rebuild their numbers after many students during the pandemic understandably bailed on their beginning music ensemble experiences. Those semblances of ensemble learning over Zoom were excruciating.
As we return to normalcy, the performing arts have become a safe haven for so many students. For some, their time in performing arts classes is what keeps them from leaving school entirely, because it is a place where they feel they can be known and accepted. For others, their participation in these programs brings the hope of collegiate-level scholarships that would open doors otherwise closed to them, and even dreams of a future career in the arts. And for all participants, these classes foster a lifelong appreciation for the arts, which leads to encouraging future generations to participate in the arts, and financial and physical support of the arts in our community as a whole.
I could cite all sorts of research studies advocating why the arts are important and of benefit to all, and why studying the arts encourages broad academic success. But my big question to you is this. Why are they apparently not important enough to keep? The performing arts are not something “extra.” They are part of the essential academic learning requirements for our students, mandated by the state of Washington. Just like math, just like science, just like history and social studies. The performing arts are essential, and we deserve to have our school board, our superintendent and our community fighting for their continued place in our schools.
I implore you to prioritize the arts and to ensure that our students have the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential as human beings, so that they can in turn contribute to the cultural vitality of our communities as a whole. Please consider the emotional and academic health of our students, and the long term effects that these proposed cuts to the performing arts could have on our community as a whole. I urge you to look for other alternatives to this current budget cut proposal.
— By Sarah Richàrd
Sarah Richàrd is the director of Edmonds-based Alley Bell Music, an Edmonds School District graduate and former teacher, and the mother of two ESD students.