By CARL MARIO NUDI
Art education in our schools has been a national topic for several years.
So much so, advocates for more art education funding have promoted adding an “A” for art to the acronym STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math — to form STEAM.
A former music teacher now working the School District of Manatee County central offices has been building up steam in her efforts to get more funding for art education in local schools.
“Across the state — really, across the country — the arts in education are not funded as well as they should be,” said Julie Hebert, visual and performing arts curriculum specialist for the school district. “Not because people don’t think it’s important, but because education as a whole is not funded adequately.”
Hebert, who has been in her district position since September 2017, has been organizing community leaders, educators, artists, and business owners to join her in forming the Manatee Arts Education Council to support the arts in education.
“Through the Manatee Arts Education Council I want equitable programs at all the schools so all the kids can have a high quality of arts education,” she said.
As a Manatee County native who attended local public schools from kindergarten to 12th grade, Hebert had first-hand experience of arts education funding shortfalls.
She had a love for music growing up that her elementary school music teachers nurtured.
Her appreciation for music was heightened when she took band at Lincoln Middle School in eighth grade where Amy Tucker Bradley was the band director.
Hebert said Bradley inspired her to work hard and she even took private lessons on the clarinet from Bradley.
Just before starting her senior year at Palmetto High School, the music teacher there resigned and Hebert’s plans to study music education in college were disrupted because the school was not sure if they were going to replace the teacher.
“I knew I wanted to be a music teacher, and I needed a letter of recommendation from my music teacher to attend college,” she said.
This was going to be a problem without a music teacher at Palmetto High, so she petitioned the school board to allow her to switch high schools, and they permitted her to transfer to Southeast High School for her senior year.
“I chose Southeast because Mrs. Bradley was the assistant music director and Bob Schaer was the band director,” Hebert said.
Southeast High had a reputation of having an award-winning music program.
“They opened new doors and new horizons I never experienced in the Palmetto High program, because Palmetto is a smaller school the program was so small,” she said.
The difference between the two county high schools was that hard work and high marks lead to winning awards, not just recognition of a job well done, Hebert said.
This high school experience was why Hebert now wanted to work to make all the music programs in all the county schools superior.
“My objective for all students is to have equitable experiences no matter which school they attend,” she said. “And through the Manatee Arts Education Council, work for equitable programs at all the schools so all the kids can have a high quality of arts education.”
Hebert has experience in overseeing arts education organizations.
After graduating from Southeast High in 1994, she worked to earn a degree in music education from Central Florida University.
Hebert then taught two years in Sarasota before returning to Manatee County schools as a teacher for 13 years at Gene Witt Elementary School.
She then left public education and went to work at the Florida Alliance for Art Education as executive director where she oversaw all programming and events of the organization.
The alliance provided arts education programs for students and professional development programs for teachers.
With her experiences with the statewide organization, Hebert was set to offer her valuable skills to the county school district as the visual and performing arts curriculum specialist.
In this position she said she serves as a resource for K-12 educators in all the schools.
“I make sure they interpret the standards correctly and show them how to best teach to those standards,” Hebert said.
She said the standards for teaching the arts have evolved.
“The approach today is to teach the student more about music and not just prepare them for two or three performances a year,” Hebert said.
And it is with the arts education council that she thinks she can achieve this mission
The Manatee Arts Education Council was organized as a membership-centered organization of educators, artists, education and cultural organizations, and community leaders.
Its mission will be to support, promote and showcase pre-K through 12 arts education in Manatee County schools.
Membership fees range from $25 for an educator or artist to the $2,500 corporate platinum level.
At the kickoff event April 26 to introduce the council to the community, Hebert talked of the alliance she would like to see with the arts community and the community at large.
“We are so fortunate to have such a vibrant arts community, and they want to be part of arts education,” she said. “They want to help our schools enhance what we are doing in the classrooms.”
The Manatee Arts Education Council will be under the umbrella of the Manatee Education Foundation, “much like a committee with its own board or directors,” Hebert said.
Mary Glass, executive director of the foundation, will serve as an advisor to the council’s board of directors.
“We are really thrilled to support this organization,” said Glass, who has an arts history background. “There is a long overdue need for an organization to support art education.”
But she emphasized that the education foundation will continue its work in supporting all areas of education in Manatee County schools.
“We will not be taking the focus off of that,” Glass said.
The Manatee Arts Education Council is still in the organizing phase, Hebert said.
“The board of directors will have a meet-and-greet get-together on May 23, then they will begin operating on July 1,” she said.
Eight seats on the board have been filled and at the May 23 meeting they will add a few more.
The board will be comprised of members of community arts groups, a parent, educators, a business representative, and a student, as well as a couple of at-large members.
There will be no more than 15 members on the board of directors.
The board’s immediate jobs will be to write the bylaws, write rules on how people apply for scholarships, what will be the qualifications for the scholarships, and begin planning for future undertakings.
One event already in the planning stage was the Arts Alive event to be held next year, Hebert said, where the first grants and scholarships will be awarded.
For Glass, of the Manatee Education Foundation, the Manatee Arts Education Council will be a great opportunity for the community.
“I’m excited about supporting the arts teachers and reaching more students through the arts,” she said, “but it will take the community getting involved to be successful.”
For more information on how to join and get involved in the Manatee Arts Education Council, call Hebert at 941-751-6550, ext. 2256, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the Manatee Education Foundation, visit its website at http://mefinfo.org.