In this era of Common Core Standards and high-stakes testing in the schools, it’s inevitable that when budget cuts are made, the arts are at the top of the casualty list. So when funding for arts education is cut, what can students and their parents do to make the most of the programs they have left?
For music students in Highland, cue the Highland Music Boosters (HMB). The nonprofit organization was established in April of 2012 by concerned parents of music students in the Highland Central School District who saw what was happening in education and recognized a need.
“In the past several years, with the two percent tax cap and the mandates that New York State is putting on education, we were seeing in our district, as well as in all others, that they were put in a situation where they had to do away with things that aren’t mandated,” says Randie Ratick, president of the Highland Music Boosters. “Even though music is considered a core subject, the mandate for music education in public schools is extremely minimal. And many people are not aware that performance groups are not mandated by New York State. The school districts want to keep these things and see the value in them, but because of budgetary constraints they’re forced to make cuts.”
So as strong believers in the value of music education, the Highland Music Boosters organized as a group with the purpose of supporting and enhancing the music programs for grades K-12 throughout the Highland Central School District. “Our overall goal is not to replace something that the school district is supposed to keep,” Ratick says. “Our goal is to advocate for excellence in the current music programs we have and give our students more opportunities.”
Membership in the Highland Music Boosters is free, and open to not just parents of music students but to any member of the community who’d like to put their support behind the group. And while booster groups are generally associated primarily with fundraising activities, advocacy for the importance of music education is just as central to the organization’s purpose, Ratick says.
To that end, their efforts are concentrated on partnering with the school district and with the local business community to involve them in supporting the music programs.
“Advocacy is key in our group,” says Ratick. “We take every chance we get to get out there and let people know who we are. Last year we spoke at the Southern Ulster Chamber of Commerce and at the Rotary, and we did a PowerPoint presentation at a School Board meeting.” She says that the school district, board and superintendent have been very supportive of the group’s efforts, even allowing them a link on the district website and welcoming them into school buildings to set up informational tables in the lobby at all concerts and open houses.