Student Advocacy Success Story by Xochitl Morales

Hi. My name is Xochitl Morales, and I am a 17-year-old high school student from a small town in the Central Valley. I go to a school in Delano that you may know as either Paramount Bard, Paramount Academy, or Wonderful College Preparatory Academy (what we are called now). When I first started going to my school in sixth grade, it was called Paramount Bard.

At that time, it had only existed for three years, but it proved to be a leader in the arts education scene. We had mariachi, choir, animation, visual design, and theater classes, as well as an entire block in our schedule dedicated to creating in any club we chose. We also had a collaboration with the prestigious Longy Conservatory of Music that allowed many of us to travel across the country to share what we were learning.

Our school was blossoming with passion and creativity.

However, four years later, after two name changes and several administration re-assignments, this was all gone. We were left with only one Art Appreciation class - just enough to fulfill our A-G high school requirements. Being an artist, I was saddened to the core as I witnessed the change in atmosphere on my campus. School became less focused on the students’ development as expressive humans, and more focused on the test scores used to academically rank local high school campuses.

Lucky for me, I had the privilege of continuing the pursuit of my artistic interests outside of school. One place I did this was at Get Lit - Words Ignite - a slam poetry program in Los Angeles that focuses on creative development and social awareness. In February of 2016, with the support of Arts for LA, my poetry troupe started an arts advocacy group called Activate. Its mission was aligned with that of the Student Voices Campaign - to educate youth on public policy to help them stimulate change in their communities. For our first task, we focused on learning about policies like the Local Control Funding Formula and the Local Control and Accountability Plan in order to preserve arts programs on our school campuses. However, unlike the other students in the group, I was the only one who attended a school with no arts programs whatsoever, so I seized this as an opportunity to change that.

I began by meeting with my principal to discuss the role of the arts on my campus. In this meeting, I asked him difficult questions about the importance of the arts, and surprised him with my arsenal of knowledge on funding policies. He was impressed by my initiative, and agreed to help me with my project.

After this meeting, I joined forces with the rest of my Activate cohort to make a mission video in order to better communicate our message. With immense teamwork, we wrote and filmed “A Student Named Art.” With this video, I was able to gather a group of students that were just as eager to get the arts back on campus. We wrote up proposals, invited administrators to our meetings, and brainstormed ideas with the hope that they would be implemented in the future.

Then, with the help of my principal, I got the opportunity to show this short film to the owner of my school and the president of our school board. They were extremely moved, and enthusiastic about assisting me in getting the arts back onto our campus. After several phone calls, they agreed to work towards getting us whatever we wanted for the arts at school. Almost immediately, we were able to establish two more hands-on arts classes, purchase a state-of-the-art kiln, and secure the construction of an outdoor amphitheater on our new campus that was being built at the time. My principal then proposed that when it was time to hire new staff for arts classes, a couple of us (in my on-campus arts advocacy group) sit in on the hiring process.

Unfortunately, since these developments, our progress has been slowed down by another two waves of administrative reassignments and staff turn-over. Without my principal, we have had trouble connecting with higher administration, and have had to establish new relationships with two new principals. However, my arts advocacy group has only adapted to these changes by becoming an “Artivist” group that fights to maintain the progress we made in the beginning. We are still having meetings, sending emails, and creating on-campus campaigns that emphasize the difference the arts make on campus. This year, our former visual art teacher is on the administrative team, and is working as our advocate within the administration. She ensures that we are being heard and taken seriously, and introduces us to new administrators as they come and go.

Over this entire journey, I have learned lessons in communication and teamwork that I believe are universal in all advocacy contexts: questions, creativity, and confidence.

I have learned that asking questions and giving answers is essential to any progress. Often times, neither side knows the whole story. If I had never asked my principal about his position on the issue of arts on campus, I would have never known he was an ally, and he would have never known that we wanted the arts in the first place.

I have also learned that being creative in your communication will make it easier to gather attention and enthusiasm. The video that we made spoke volumes to the people we showed it to. We were told on several occasions that our creativity with our message showed our passion and hard work.

The most important thing I took away from this was that sometimes you really just need to speak up. Ask questions. Be creative. Share ideas. And always welcome them. You shouldn’t underestimate the power of yours or another's voice or the impact it has because of age or status. It always has significance and almost always will make an incredible difference.