How the 2019 NAfME Collegiate Advocacy Summit Helped Reorient Our Collegiate Chapter
Mission, Purpose, and Growth in Our Campus Chapter
By NAfME Collegiate Member Jacob Austrino
For the past two years at Ohio University, we had been searching for ways to enhance our NAfME Collegiate chapter. We have been looking to maximize our attendance, create interesting and applicable meetings, and motivate our peers to put professional development at the forefront of their educational aspirations.
How I Discovered the Summit
In our chapter, we have always focused on hosting guest speakers, but over the years, despite our guest speakers being highly qualified and engaging, we realized that the purpose of our chapter was unspecified and that our mission was disconnected from NAfME as a whole.
As I was searching online, I discovered an event that I knew very little about: the Collegiate Advocacy Summit in Washington, DC. This event was an opportunity to network with other chapters from across the country and learn about how they functioned. Little did I know, this ended up being accompanied by the life-changing experience of participating on the front lines of music education advocacy in our federal government on NAfME Hill Day.
Ice Breakers and Advocacy Training
During the ice-breaker activities, I recognized that I was sitting in a room with more than 150 of the most passionate pre-service music educators in the country. There is nothing like knowing that everyone who was there wanted to do whatever it took to advocate for music education and to share their experiences with each other and the legislators on Capitol Hill.
“Nothing is more impactful than speaking from the heart on how music has impacted our lives and our home communities.”
One of the most beneficial training activities for Hill Day was practicing our advocacy elevator pitches with other collegiate delegates. The purpose of this activity was to teach us that sharing experiences and stories from our point of view is the most powerful force of advocacy possible. The training also prepared us to discuss the specifics of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Guarantee Access to Arts and Music Education (GAAME) Act, and Title I, II, and IV funding. Most importantly, it taught us that nothing is more impactful than speaking from the heart on how music has impacted our lives and our home communities.
Our training proved to be effective as soon as our Hill Day experience began in the office of Ohio Senator Rob Portman. Two of my peers from Ohio University and I were standing in a small room with about 40 people huddled around waiting to speak to the senator. We were leaned up against a door as there was very little space to stand in the center of the room. After waiting for about an hour, the door behind us creaked open and out stepped Senator Portman—and he immediately turned to us.
Right away, we jumped into conversation and shared our personal experiences. The questions went back and forth for several minutes as he intently listened to each of our stories. Here was one of only 100 senators in our entire country, and he was listening to us talk about music education in a room filled with other people anxiously waiting to speak to him. This experience humanized a politician whom I had only seen on commercials as I realized that our nation’s leaders can be greatly affected by the stories that come from the honesty of everyday life.
In our conversation, Senator Portman stated with disappointment, “It seems like fewer and fewer students participate in music programs these days.” In response, I said, “That may be true, but what it comes down to is access. If schools don’t have the funding for music programs, it’s impossible for students to participate in them.”
We didn’t just talk about policy; we also talked about music education in the same way that one would talk to their neighbor. And we listened to each other.
This experience helped me realized that advocacy is not as daunting of a task as it may seem. As the Immediate Past President of the Ohio Music Education Association Michael Crist told us during a visit to Ohio University this fall, “You’ve been advocating since the day you were born! For food, for water, for warmth. Advocating for music education is no different.”
Advocacy is not a task that has an easily achievable end goal. Rather, it is an effort over time to represent our field and to work to gain the resources that we need to effectively share music with young people. Advocacy is not a one-time event; it is an action that must be repeated.
In one of our training sessions at the summit, Scott Sheehan shared with us that many people ask him what NAfME is doing. His response to that question is simply, “What are you doing?”
In that moment, I knew that our main priority was to connect with the mission of NAfME as a whole: “To advance music education by promoting the understanding and making of music by all.”
“We have a mission, we have a purpose, and we have a growing chapter full of individuals who are eager to be the people who do what NAfME does.”
We now focus our NAfME Collegiate chapter meetings toward the goal of learning about and practicing advocacy. We created an Advocacy and Diversity Committee, and our newly instated chapter President is organizing events that use community outreach to help us grow as educators thanks to the ideas that we brainstormed with other chapter leaders at the Summit. We have a mission, we have a purpose, and we have a growing chapter full of individuals who are eager to be the people who do what NAfME does.
About the author:
NAfME Collegiate member Jacob Austrino is a senior music education major at Ohio University who has just completed his term as the President of NAfME Collegiate Chapter 231. Jacob would like to thank Kane Feltner and Viktoria Straka for attending the Summit with him, as well as the College of Fine Arts, the School of Music, and Ohio Citizens for the Arts for funding the trip to Washington, DC, and making this experience possible. You can check out his portfolio at: www.jacobaustrino.weebly.com.
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