Moreno Valley Unified School District Includes Students in Arts Planning Process

The Challenge: How to Get Student Input for District Arts Planning  

The Strategy: Invite Exceptional High School Seniors to Attend Arts Planning Meetings

The Story: Shania Carden, a high school senior in the Moreno Valley Unified School District, was never expecting to be invited to participate in the school district strategic arts planning process. “[It] was a surprise to me,” Shania explained, “but I was very eager to do so! I was very interested in being there to learn what was behind the scenes in the arts planning process.” 

She received this invitation because Greg Solomon, district Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Coordinator, understood the importance of including student voices in the process. “They are the only people who can describe what it is like to be in our arts classrooms,” he said. Greg identified students for the arts planning committee by reaching out to arts teachers in the district. He asked teachers to recommend seniors who could speak about their experiences in arts programs. As a four-year member, historian, and president of the Valley View High School Choir program, Shania knew the arts education programs and could contribute to district meetings. 

“I wanted to be involved in the arts planning process because I was choir president during the planning process. I wanted to make sure that I input any ideas that may help improve our programs in the district since I was actively involved in teaching and directing my peers,” said Shania. She felt like an “ambassador” who communicated what other students desired in the distract plan.

Once Greg had found students to participate, the real work began: tackling the logistical challenges associated with the inclusion of students. First, knowing the students would miss three full days of classes, Greg reached out the principals of the schools the students attended. In the Moreno Valley Unified School District, Greg said that the principals “felt as though the students were being honored” and were very willing to accommodate the schedule of the arts planning process. Second, Greg gathered parental permission and transportation forms for each student. Overall, the logistical hurdles of accommodating student participation were well worth the trouble. 

Before the meetings, Greg took the following steps to engage students in the arts planning process:

1. Reach out to teachers for recommendations for student participants
2. Send formal invitations to students
3. Communicate with principals to ensure students could miss class
4. Coordinate transportation to and from district meeting
5. Include students in all meeting communications about the arts planning process

The value of student participation was three-fold. For Shania, the meetings were a learning experience in which she “learned that many people have different visions of what an ideal environment for the arts is and those ideas can shape and grow the ideas that we have within ourselves.” As Greg explained, the students were the “only people in the room who could talk about how arts impacted their life and how the arts in school created a place for them to be themselves.” Students were also able to provide insights about what they felt they were missing in their schools. For example, the students spoke about how their schools lacked a performance space large enough to accommodate all of their friends and family. In the current theatre space, students had to hold four different performances in order to include everyone who wanted to attend. The students, the committee, and the arts plan itself were all enriched by including students in the arts planning process.

Learn more about the California Alliance for Arts Education’s Arts Now Planning Initiative here