Former Miss JSU Whitney Curtis is concerned about the lack of consistent funding available for music education in public schools across the state of Alabama.
The Music Education major, who was crowned Miss JSU in 2011 and currently holds the title Miss Talladega County, has begun a letter-writing campaign as part of her service platform, “Keeping the Arts Alive.”
“Instead of a petition that says, ‘Hey, music is important, please fund it,’ I’m trying to appeal to the more human side of politicians and lawmakers,” said Curtis.
She’s asked people who have benefitted from music education to write letters explaining “why music is important and what kind of an impact it’s made on them as individuals.”
Her goal—to collect 1,000 letters by spring break to present in a portfolio to state and local officials showing how music education benefitted current and former students in Alabama’s public school system.
“I’ll have my own letter talking about how music is beneficial, and I’ve got people—from music teachers and students across the state, to even a few community leaders—that are writing me letters,” she said.
Miss Alabama 1978 and current voice instructor in the Music Department Teresa Cheatham-Stricklin wrote a letter for Curtis. Miss America re-tweeted her cause last Wednesday.
That cause also built momentum on Facebook after Curtis created a community page asking for letters on Monday, Feb. 25. By the following Friday, 185 people had ‘liked’ the page, and Curtis had received “about 100 letters” for her campaign.
Letters like the one hand-written and delivered by a 7th grader, who wrote that “Adele is [her] inspiration because she can take heartbreak and turn it into a Grammy.”
Curtis is currently preparing for graduation by completing her internship, part of which she’s done at Weaver High School. She said she noticed that funding for the fine arts is dependent on fundraising done by students and faculty.
“I’d like to see a more consistent fund for choir,” says Curtis. “Let’s say you have a group of students who have to have that fine arts credit and they get stuck in that band class or choir class, do they really want to fundraise? Probably not,” she said.
“But then you might have great years, where you have 20 really enthusiastic music students. So the funding really just depends on the interest level of the students,” she continued. Curtis wonders how schools can have consistently successful music programs if the funding for those programs isn’t consistent.
At the same time, she admits that the problem of finding money for fine arts programs in public schools isn’t one she’s equipped to solve by herself.
“I’m 23 years old, so what do I know about how to better fund education? That’s an age old question,” she said. “What I’d like to do is present [the portfolio], show that there’s a passion for music in the state of Alabama, and then see what we can do” to keep it in schools.
Curtis plans on presenting her finished portfolio to Rep. Mike Rogers by mid-April. Rogers represents Alabama’s 3rd Congressional district, of which Calhoun County is a part.
While she doesn’t know if the letter-writing campaign will affect funding for music education, she says she’d “rather try and have someone say, ‘You know what, I can’t do anything to help you,’ than not to have tried at all.”
Regardless of the outcome, Curtis will “see this thing out to the end.” She said there may be a misconception that she’s just organizing the letter-writing campaign for the Miss Alabama competition, which she will participate in the first week of June.
That’s not the case. “This is my career,” she said. “This is something I’m passionate about.”
Anyone interested in contributing a letter to Curtis’s campaign can do so via Facebook or email. The Facebook group’s name is “Keeping the Arts Alive: Letter Campaign,” and the email address is SaveMusicInAlabama@yahoo.com. Curtis asks that all letters be addressed “To whom it may concern,” so they can be placed in her portfolio.