Group aims to keep arts alive

By J. PATRICK PEPPER

Times-Herald Newspapers

    DEARBORN — When the ax falls on public schools’ budgets, one of the first things to face cutbacks is performing arts curriculums.

    And in the face of chronically shrinking budgets over the last decade, Dearborn Public Schools are no exception. Over that time elementary music programs have downsized drastically, and middle school music programs also have lessened their offerings. High school programs, too, have seen reductions in staffing and resources.

    The trend is alarming for many who worry that the fleeting opportunities will leave gifts uncultivated, interests not explored and, most importantly, a community without arts.

    In order to help make the such programs more of a constant and less tied to the fickle budgetary process, a group of local parents and educators are working to get a dedicated performing arts “school within a school” at Dearborn High School by fall 2010.

    Arts Alive Dearborn, as the group calls itself, has been meeting since about May, when a simple desire to help for one DPS parent turned into the concerted effort currently taking hold.

    Lynnette Carlson, whose daughter, Emily, is headed to Hope College on a music scholarship after graduating from DHS last year, said it all began when she asked instrumental music director Jeff Oshnock if there was anything she could do to help out the music program.

    “The goal was just to try and provide some type of support,” Carlson said, “but when we sat down to ask what the program needed, it became clear how critical the situation was.”     From that meeting, word spread and the cause was undertaken. Oshnock was joined by fellow DHS arts instructors Greg Viscomi of the theater program and vocal director Carmelle Atkins as the educational clout behind the movement. On the community side, Diane Kaplan, the Rev. David Bleivik, Mark Dearth, Marshall Dicks and Gary White have joined Carlson so far to comprise the group’s board of directors.

    The eventual goal is to provide an alternative curriculum for any DPS high school student interested in the arts. With state curriculum requirements putting a heavy emphasis on math and science and students able to choose only two elective courses per semester, it can be difficult for arts students to pursue fully their passions while still meeting mandates. If the program became a success, organizers eventually would like to see the award-winning DHS video program integrated in some fashion.

    While organizers admit it’s an ambitious plan, already district administrators have expressed interest in the concept and encouraged the group to begin fundraising for an exploratory year of curriculum writing, logistical problem solving and drumming up community support.

    “Once they come up with the money, we would be happy to meet with them and understand their program, and if at all possible, it would be our goal to implement it,” Supt. Brian Whiston said. “We would like to see a growth in these programs, not a reduction.”

     The district’s blessing is critical for several reasons. One in particular would be to petition the state for an alternative curriculum waiver – essentially a license to put more arts into the curriculum – that would pave the way for the program’s enactment.

    But before any of that happens, Arts Alive organizers said they need to raise about $10,000 for the exploratory process. They also are looking for people to send letters, make phone calls and get involved so that district administrators can get a sense of where the community stands on the issue.

    Donations can be sent to the group through the Dearborn Community Arts Council, 15801 Michigan Ave. For further information e-mail questions or comments to artsalivedearborn@gmail.com.

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