Last week, the auditorium of Baltimore Unity Hall was filled with young, creative energy! From performances by the Mount Royal Elementary School choir and the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women dance team to the youth testimonials, the 5th Annual Arts Education Town Hall put student voices front and center. Did you miss the Town Hall? Watch the recording here! 

This year’s Town Hall was organized by the Baltimore Youth Arts Advocacy Council, an Arts Every Day program designed to amplify the voices of high school students through civic engagement, leadership skill development, public speaking, and community organizing around arts education access. For many of our council members, this program is their first experience with employment, first time public speaking, and first time meeting with city and state leaders. The council worked hard during the weeks leading up to the Town Hall to develop testimonies, write the script, create a ‘run of show’, assign stage crew tasks, and monitor social media during the live stream event. 

So what was the experience like for the Council? Here’s what they had to say!

What was your favorite part of the Town Hall?

“I loved the performances, especially the dance performance by Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women!” Giselle

What did the BYAAC team do well?

“I really think that we did a good job with setting it up and practicing our lines, even stage crew practicing how to work the screen and mics.  Although there were some errors we still worked as a team to figure out how we can fix it.” Miracle

What surprised you?

“I was amazed by how many people were there and passionate about making the arts better in City Schools. There are a lot of people trying to fix the problems of arts in the school.” Zoey

“What surprised me was hearing the problems that teachers have in school, like lack of supplies or miscommunication with other teachers or the principal. Because I always thought that they had organized meetings so everything can be planned out in advance.” Miracle

What advice do you have for the organizers of next year’s Town Hall?

“I would just say be positive and committed because trying to fix problems in art or problems in general can be challenging but when you have a team who is always willing to help and brainstorm together it can be better.” Miracle

Arts Pathways at the High School Level

Many of the testimonies from the Town Hall centered around access to the arts at the high school level. Talyah Whittaker, a sophomore at Dunbar High School shared, 

“Dunbar offers dance, music, and visual arts, yet students can participate only once for a semester. I propose expanding options, allowing students across grades to pursue art for 3 or 4 years, fostering potential careers or scholarships in the arts through encouragement and performance.”

Talyah’s story is not uncommon. Baltimore City is a ‘choice-based’ school district and does not limit families to a school based on where they live. However, not every student is eligible for or able to attend their school of choice. ‘Entrance Criteria’ schools base admissions on attendance, academic composite test scores, standardized test scores, and other measures of ability. Location, public bus transportation, and choice of instructional program also factor into where students can attend school. The District’s six academic/portfolio Entrance Criteria Schools (Baltimore City College, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Western High School, Baltimore School for the Arts, Baltimore Design School) have the capacity to serve only a fraction of the high school student population. In SY 2022-2023, 100% (6/6) of Entrance Criteria Schools offered depth of study in at least one arts discipline. Depth of study is defined as schools offering a 100-level course plus two additional courses in the same arts discipline.

Admissions to the District’s 27 high schools operate on a choice or school-based lottery and are not dependent on test scores or portfolio/auditions. These ‘choice’ schools serve the majority of high school students district wide. 59% (16/27) of choice schools have no depth of study in any arts discipline. 26% (7/27) of choice schools offer one fine arts credit only – the minimum required for graduation. For the majority of high school students in Baltimore City, there is no college and career pathway in any arts discipline. Even if a student does not pursue a degree or career in the arts, students with access to an arts rich education are more likely to graduate on time and become civically engaged as adults. All students deserve to experience the benefits that sustained arts learning provides.

Access to depth of study also breaks down along issues of racial equity. In 2022-23, white students were 20% more likely than Black/African American students to attend a school that offered depth of study in 2 or more disciplines. This disparity continues when you look at access based on income. Students who are from low income families are less likely to attend a school with depth of study in 2 or more disciplines than students from non-low income schools. 

Arts Every Day remains committed to identifying inequitable access to the arts and pushing for system wide changes that result in all students being able to express themselves and pursue college and careers in the arts. Not only is it a fundamental right within public education, the arts are also required by state and federal regulations. Are you interested in joining us in this work? Join for our next parent and community arts education advocacy meeting on January 11 at 6pm on zoom. REGISTER HERE