After school Open Studios students work on art projects of their choice at Arts+ in Marin City.
It was heartbreaking to realize that students at the transitional kindergarten to eighth grade public school in Marin City, Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, were unprepared to participate in high school arts activities like marching band, orchestra, theater and advanced art classes. Overall arts funding was inequitable with the arts education of most of their Marin County peers and was further eroded through school budget cuts.
Over the past six years, Arts+ Bayside MLK Jr. Foundation has rallied the Marin County community to restore and expand arts programs for these students. In addition to its advocacy role in gradually restoring school district funding of the curricular visual and musical arts programs, the foundation provided extracurricular programs in the arts, all with a goal of creating a level playing field for these students to participate in arts activities when they reach high school. These programs included after-school Visual Arts Open Studios, theater pilot programs, Saturday small group instrumental music lessons, and private instrumental music lessons that placed instruments in students’ homes for regular practice.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all group extracurricular activities came to a screeching halt. Students experienced isolation, stress and the loss of the brain stimulation formerly provided by these activities. Parents and guardians expressed an extreme need for at-home learning activities that also provided stress relief.
Prior to the pandemic, only students who were the most advanced and showed the greatest interest were offered private instrumental music lessons, due to the high cost on a per student basis. But a $10,000 grant from the Giving Marin Community Partnership, generous community donors, a social media instrument drive, and the technology of Zoom changed all that. Arts+ expanded the program dramatically, offering private and semi-private instrumental music lessons and home instruments to all interested students, including beginners.
Families immediately reported the children were happier, even enjoying practicing between lessons. Additionally, Zoom technology stretched donation dollars and decreased student isolation. Multiple students taught on one Zoom were able to communicate, with one student unmuted at a time, the others muted but playing along.
The beginning of the 2021-22 school year has thankfully brought the return of both curricular and extracurricular arts instruction. It has also brought historic change to the school. Under the first desegregation order in California in 50 years, the Marin City traditional public school and the Sausalito charter school unified within two years of a five-year timeline established in a settlement agreement with the California attorney general.
In the words of district Superintendent Itoco Garcia, “This community joined together to re-imagine and design an educational system that will serve all the students in the 94965 in an inclusive and collaborative way that will make a difference in the lives of students and families for generations to come. Our leadership and experience last year allowed us to safely launch a world class integrated school, a unified school on two campuses that will be greater than the sum of its parts.”
To ensure the continuation of the programs of after-school open studios and group instrumental music lessons during the startup of the unified school, Arts+ is funding those programs through a donation to the unified school’s newly formed foundation, Rise Up! 94965.
Arts+ continues to be committed to providing these lessons for students whose families fully support their musical education but for whom the private lesson cost is not financially viable. With the unification of the schools, this population of students has doubled.
You can support music and art lessons for students by donating at artsplusbmlkfoundation.org.
A semi-private flute lesson occurs via Zoom and beginning saxophone students learn to blow a note out of the sax mouthpiece through the Arts+ Bayside MLK Jr. Foundation. -All photos courtesy of Arts+ Bayside MLK Jr. Foundation