Jazz and Advocacy at the Duke Ellington School

Nowadays it’s not uncommon for a school music program to have a parent booster group to assist in activities like fundraising. But have you ever considered how the boosters’ enthusiasm for their kids’ involvement in school music could be an asset in actively advocating on behalf of the program itself?

At the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Washington, D.C. the parents group for longtime MENC member Davey Yarborough’s Instrumental Music Department do just that. Like most boosters, they take care of the fundraising heavy lifting, help with the logistics of planning trips for the department’s various ensembles, and provide a pool of chaperones.

“As department chair, they relieve me of a lot of issues that take away from the academic focus,” says Yarborough, who teaches Jazz Theory, Combo, Orchestra, and Saxophone Technique at Ellington.

The group also goes the extra mile by advocating for the program in a number of other ways:

• Helping with recruitment
• Speaking publicly about music’s importance to them as parents of children involved in the program
• Meeting regularly with staff to determine departmental needs

And to make sure everyone’s on the same page, the group set up a listserv to coordinate information distribution for all of these activities.

Pretty impressive, isn’t it? These days, with budget cuts a constant worry, this kind of organized advocacy is pretty much a must-have for any school music program. Start a booster group. If you’ve already got one in place, encourage the membership to get out in the community and speak at public meetings about the value of a high-quality music education. Remember, there are no better advocates for a program than its students and their organized, energized parents!

—Nick Webb, January 20, 2011, © National Association for Music Education