Sounding Off: Don't let arts fall by wayside

Daily Pilot

"What is that song they are singing?"

In the early 1980s this question was posed to me by my Girl Scout troop at an all-county Girl Scout Olympics. Astounded, I answered, "The Star Spangled Banner," our national anthem! The girls said they had never heard it before.

It was then that I realized the effects of music program cutbacks in the public schools. Other parents also noticed the negative effects of cutbacks in the arts.

Five parents met in architect Brion Jeanette's office to set up the Newport-Mesa Schools Foundation. The first priority initially was to rehire music teachers.

Each of us had an assignment, and we reported back at the next meeting at my house.

My assignment was to research the literature of the Beverly Hills, Laguna Beach and Irvine Schools Foundations and to write the first brochure, "Kids Can't Wait" (with mortarboard logo), for the newly forming Newport-Mesa Schools Foundation.

Corporate attorney Dave Carmichael looked into the legalities. Businessman John Ball spoke to PTAs and businesses to promote the foundation. Liz Palmer became executive director in charge of fundraising, which began as a telephone campaign.

Although the initial goal was to raise funds so that the school district could rehire music teachers, the superintendent told us that the funds collected in the first year had to go toward hiring reading teachers, which we accomplished. The second year we were able to raise enough funds to rehire several music teachers.

Many years later, the district changed the use of the foundation's donations to go instead toward much-needed teacher grants.

Each year when I read about the Newport-Mesa Schools Foundation in the Daily Pilot, I smile and think about how it started almost 30 years ago and the wonderful volunteers and donors who have perpetuated its good works.

My concern today when I read about the overwhelming emphasis on reading and math test scores, is that it will be at the expense of music, science, history and the arts. I hope our school children will not have to ask again, "What is that song they are singing?" when our national anthem is being played. Even more important is that they know the historical meaning behind the words.

Thank you all for donating to the Newport-Mesa Schools Foundation over the years.

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