Monday, March 7, 2011

The 2.5 Million Dollar Question.

A few months back, I wrote a two-part blog post about our Halloween adventures. In the first part of that post, I talked about going to the School of the Arts, or SOTA as us native Rochesterians like to call it. I took Inara to attend SOTA's annual Storybook and Spooky House, and the teachers and students went out of their way to ensure that we had a fantastic time (which we did).

This is the hallmark of SOTA, and schools like it in our city. There are a handful of specialized schools that work against all odds, in the roughest neighborhoods, to reach out to make ties with the community. They not only strengthen their students, but they go beyond - creating bonds that lift us up, and inspire us to achieve the very best that society has to offer. Just ask Taye Diggs, a graduate of SOTA.

SOTA has become a gold standard of education in our city, not just for its high-ranking graduation rates, but also for its outstanding arts programs. The arts are what personify SOTA and its students. They are what give these kids a voice with which they can be heard in the world. And it is such a testament to the hardworking teachers and students of this school that they are using their voices and incredible talents to draw attention to their fight.

Last week, our school district handed down what is effectively a death knell for arts education in the city of Rochester. Apparently responding (where responding means committing educational suicide) to state cuts in funding, the district has decided to go with a new funding formula that will see SOTA's Arts budget cut by 57%. FIFTY SEVEN PERCENT. That means 140 Arts classes, gone. 14 out of 24 Arts teachers, gone.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg for SOTA. The effects of the budget cuts are going to be far-reaching and absolutely devastating for the future of this top-ranked school that many view as the best our district has to offer, both in the arts and academically. So where will all that money (2.5 million in SOTA's case) go? Nobody really knows for sure.

Right now, my kids aren't old enough to go to SOTA. I have no vested interest in this school other than recognizing the fact that to lose it would mean the end of so many bright futures that have barely even begun. These kids deserve a chance to nurture all of their talents. For many of them, SOTA will be the only exposure to the arts that they will ever have.

SOTA's students don't take their gift for granted (as you can tell by that YouTube video - which was shot, composed, performed and edited by SOTA students, parents and teachers). They go on to succeed and to excel. They become lawyers and doctors and Ph.D. graduates. They work so hard to earn their spot at SOTA and to keep it. They come from all backgrounds, all nationalities, and all income levels. They are us, if we were twenty years younger and standing on the brink of infinite possibilities. I remember being that young once. I remember feeling as though the world had so much to offer, and that I could do anything I dreamed of, if I was given the chance to succeed. SOTA takes those dreams and turns them into reality, and I refuse to allow it to become yet another memory of a golden era when anything was possible.

Watching SOTA's Save Our School YouTube Video moved me more than just the words here can express. Partly because it's a horrible thing that is happening, but mostly because I was so impressed by the talent it took to put that video together. SOTA speaks for itself - and yet, we need more people to speak out for it's students. These kids are going to do such amazing things with their lives, if we don't stand in their way first. They are passionate, articulate, well-organized and more than a little pissed. And they shouldn't HAVE to be fighting like this. Their outrage should be shared by all of us, their beautiful voices echoed by ours - by the thousands.

Across the nation, this is a story that is playing out over and over. And it is not fair to our children for it to continue this way. It's not just about funding the arts. It's about the way we educate ALL of our kids, in a way that nurtures them and gives them the tools to take us into the future. These kids, our kids, SOTA's kids - they are the future.

Cutting from their education leaves us all bereft.

For More Information:
SOTA Save Our School Page on Facebook (Run by SOTA students. Rock on, guys.)
Rochester City School District Adequate School Funding Group on Facebook
SOTA in the local news
SOTA's Webpage
Flower City Parents Network Forum
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