Community Help in Music Education (CHIME)

Testimony to DC Board of Education
December 12, 2002

TO: DC Board of Education and Superintendent Vance FROM: Dorothy Marschak ABOUT: Suggestions for improving community help to DCPS

SUMMARY of Main Point of Testimony

The problems:

  • DC has many talented people, individually or through organizations, who would love to offer their services without cost to DCPS to enrich the curriculum in arts and other subjects (in addition to those who already do).
  • The Superintendent and the President of the Board are always making appeals for volunteers to help in the schools.
  • But: the system is such that volunteers have great difficulty in communicating with DCPS or individual schools, in getting placed, and in being utilized effectively. There is no one at the center or in the schools whose job description includes receiving offers from the community, finding placements for them, and communicating with them. Or, if there is, it is a deep, dark secret from this organization that has been working with the schools, under great obstacles, for 6 years.
  • Because it is up to organizations and individual volunteers to locate schools that might want them, the distribution of such volunteer resources as there are in the schools is very unequal. There are some schools, with particularly active and receptive Principals who seem to get a large share of the offerings, while others get little.
  • Part of the problem is that parents and the community are really not welcomed in some schools, despite lip service. But I believe a good part of the problem is systemic, and could be greatly alleviated by cost-effective systemic changes.

My suggestion:

  • Have a central DCPS staff person (called, eg, Volunteer Coordinator) whose job it is to coordinate offers of community volunteer support (perhaps separate curriculum support from facilities, safety and other kinds of support), and a liaison staff person in each school whose job description includes passing on requests for help from their school staff and finding available matching help from the center. This could be a parallel function of the Personnel Office.
  • Much of this could be done via computer: requests could be received from individual schools, and offers submitted by potential volunteers. The matching could be done at the center, and this could include some vetting for police and health records. It would then be up to the individual Principals and LSRT’s to get together with the volunteers to give approval and work out the details of the matches.
  • This would save potential volunteers and organizations from having to spend endless hours trying to find a school that wanted their services, and undergoing the daunting communication problems in making arrangements with a school, once one is found.
  • It would also give all schools a chance of getting wanted support.

Further elaboration:

I would welcome the opportunity to appear before the Board in person, or meet with individual members, to elaborate on my experience with the problems and suggestions for dealing with them. I intended to give a presentation last Thursday, but was unable to come to the rescheduled meeting last night.

Background about CHIME and its DCPS experience:

I am the Founder and President of CHIME (Community Help In Music Education), incorporated in 1998 as a 501(c).3 DC non-profit corporation. Our mission is to mobilize community resources to promote and provide music education for DCPS students during and outside of school.

In particular, we:

  • Advocate for inclusion of standards-based music education in the required K-6 curriculum. We have collected over 3,000 signatures on a petition calling for this.
  • Support and enrich existing school music programs with instructional assistance for students, professional development for classroom and music teachers, and donation of instruments in good repair.
  • Provide supplemental out of school instruction
  • Present a series of free “Music Around the World” educational performances at DC neighborhood public libraries suitable for classroom enrichment (22 programs this year at 11 libraries covering all wards of the city).
  • Have a new Music Mentors program in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters for DC students between the ages of 8 and 13.
What we have provided DC public schools since inception (despite operating on a shoe-string budget with no paid staff):
  • Reached over 2500 students in 20 DC public schools with on-going classes or one-time presentations (some of these through the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative—DC AHEC).
  • Provided professional development workshops for DCPS classroom and music teachers directly and through the DCAHEC. This school year so far teachers at Bancroft, Terrell, and Aiton Elementary Schools, Roots Charter School, and Mamie E. Lee Special Ed School have had multiple workshops on how to incorporate music into their curricula through use of simple instruments (recorders, songflutes or xylophones, depending on the age group). These have been taught by our associate Kay Jones.
  • Distributed many donated instruments in good repair to 5 DC elementary schools (as well as other music programs), including pianos and an organ that DCPS has transported
What we have wanted to provide but been unable to because of the great difficulties CHIME and many others experience in trying to work with DCPS.
  • We found donors for five pianos for schools that said they needed them; failures by schools to follow through with donors and with transportation arrangements caused the prospective donors to give up in disgust and dispose of them elsewhere. Where we have donated instruments, it has taken multiple requests to get written acknowledgment, which we need for our records. When they have come, they have been full of errors. Donors have never been thanked, and some of their offers to help with the program have been ignored.
  • Offers of help with instrument repair, including helping to initiate apprenticeship programs at receptive High Schools, have been ignored or rejected. The schools and the warehouse are full of instruments in unplayable condition (at least this was the situation last fall when I was last informed about it). Many schools and music teachers complain of their lack of playable instruments. Yet many offers of help are ignored or not acted on.
  • It is getting harder and harder to place qualified musicians or music students willing to offer volunteer on-going instructional help to school music programs. This is despite our record that every single musician we have succeeded in placing has gotten excellent evaluations from school staff and participating students. I have been trying to place several without success since last summer (who have since found other non-school programs to volunteer with). I have several students from the Music Dept at George Washington University now who would like to help, and I can’t get the necessary meetings with School Principals and staff to set them up.
  • We have asked school music teachers and other staff to recommend students, particularly girls, who would be qualified to be mentored in our Music Mentors program. So far there has been no response.
  • The last Music Content Specialist did not consider it was her job to receive offers from the community and to find placement for them, nor was she willing to circulate such offers. I have left messages for Dr. Ruiz and others, asking who I could contact that could help placement this year, but have had no response. I have also not been successful in getting appointments with School Board members.

This is a bad time for non-profits, particularly emerging ones. Funders ask for updated letters of support from partners. I have asked for letters of support from the schools we have helped and from the center. So far I have not received any this year. No school we have helped has ever offered to donate any of the funds it raises for supportive programs to CHIME. We have to begin contemplating the possibility that we may not be able to continue after this school year. I would like to make the way easier for others to work in the schools who may take up the torch if we have to pass it on. I do hope you will seriously consider my suggestion. At a small cost in personnel you could greatly leverage the amount of community resources that could be helping your programs.