Serving the Same Students: Education Equity & the Arts

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 4:07pm

by Amy Sauceda

Photo: presenters“When we talk about this issue we have to start with equity and what does that mean,” says Ryan Smith, director of education programs and policy for The United Way of Greater Los Angeles. “We need to talk more about providing students with the resources they need.”

A special Cultural Policy Study Session exploring issues of equity in public education in Los Angeles County, presented by Arts for LA on June 25, filled an auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary Art with arts advocates, teachers, and leaders. Three speakers who shared their knowledge on the education system analyzed the critical topic of education and equity among all children. The common ground was the need for all children to acquire the same educational experience. 

“What does it take for a child to get from birth to high school graduation,” said Ellen Pais, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Education Partnership. “ Children need quality teachers, physical and mental health care, appropriate and effective academic support, exposure to enriching and self expressing experiences like the arts, music, sports, youth development opportunities and adults who love and nurture them.”

In her speech, Pais spoke about high poverty communities and their lack of enriching places where violence and trauma are common, affecting education outcomes by reducing students’ abilities to focus on academics. With the Los Angeles Educational Partnership, Pais concentrates on supporting high poverty communities in Los Angeles to become places where children thrive and graduate high school with a college ready mentality. 

"In the state of California we only graduate 50-60 percent of black men and the numbers are similar for Latinos,” said presenter Ryan Smith. 

Smith works with United Way of Greater Los Angeles to build collaborative communities in the county to ensure education equity. He started a program dedicated to student leadership at Gompers Middle School located in south Los Angeles where 50 percent of students are in foster care with almost all black and brown students.  Smith shared a compelling story of one of his students, labeled as a troublemaker, who revealed a great deal about himself when interviewed for a school youth program.

“This student took a penny out of his pocket and said, 'I am just like this penny because pennies become dimes, dimes become quarters, quarters become dollars, dollars become millions, and I can be someone if you believe in me,'” said Smith. 

Sandy Escobedo, senior policy analyst for the Advancement Project, spoke about trying to solve the unfulfilled dream that children, particularly in low-income communities and communities of color, fail to utilize their full potential. Escobedo is a strong supporter of quality early childhood education and fights to obtain funding for public schools and build support for future generations.

 “Why are we waiting until high school to change some of the injustices that are happening in schools,” said Escobedo. “Students who don’t attend a high quality pre school are 25 percent more likely to drop out but California continues to invest far more in prisons than they invest in schools. That is a crime.”

Education inequity is a continuous battle.  However, we can make steady progress toward more positive outcomes for all students through programs like arts education, providing a space where children can flourish and advance their education.  

“Until we see students, parents, and teachers involved in policy we will never see a true change here in Los Angeles,” said Smith. 

To watch the presentations, click here: