Levy dollars keep the arts at center stage in Battle Ground schools

Sept. 30, 2021

In a classroom tucked behind The Lair in Battle Ground High School, a group of students sits quietly as one after another talks about what being part of drama club has meant to them.

“Being in drama club has helped me build my confidence and helped my personality stand out,” said Hailey Ellen Maxine Dvorak-Coop, a freshman from Amboy. “It’s helped me be a little more ‘me’ and not be afraid.”

Kevin Davis, also a freshman from Amboy, said the experience helped him gain control over anger issues that troubled him in middle school. “It’s a very life-changing experience. It’s also a safe haven for a lot of kids.”

Students in a classroom“This isn’t about performing. It’s not about getting up on stage. This is about life,” said drama teacher Stephan “Cash” Henry, who came to BGHS a decade ago. “It’s about a safe environment for kids who might not have a safe environment anywhere else, and them understanding that they have a family. No matter what. I have had kids tell me ‘if it wasn’t for drama club, I don’t know if I would still be here.’”

At Tukes Valley Middle School, band teacher Alison Pierce has developed a fierce and loyal following among current and former students in the 13 years she has been there.

“Even out of class, she would tell me ‘if you need anything, I will always be here for you,’” recalled Kaia Wood, now a freshman at BGHS. “That really meant a lot to me.”

“I always tell them ‘once you’re my kid, you’re always my kid, no matter what age you are,” Pierce said. That connection is often built over all four years of middle school.

Madison Bessas, now a senior at BGHS, said her time in band at Tukes was a rare bright spot during middle school, when she was dealing with undiagnosed depression and struggles at home. “Mrs. Pierce was probably the closest thing I had to a mom for those four years,” she said, holding back tears. “She just made me feel so loved and so important. She made me feel like the most special kid in the world, and I can’t thank her enough for that.”

Bessas joined the drama program at BGHS last year after finally getting up the courage to take a chance. The experience, she said, has been transformative both inside and outside of the classroom. “Cash helped me find my own voice with a monologue I did (last year), and that woke something up in me to say ‘hey, I can do this. I’m OK to speak up. I’m allowed to say what I want and what I need.’”

Cheryl Feucht, a visual arts teacher in the Battle Ground school district for twenty years, including 16 at Glenwood Heights and the last four atStudent drawing Daybreak Primary, said art has been a major part of her young students learning how to express themselves, discovering other cultures, and exploring their own creativity.

“I have noticed a calmness that comes over students as they paint, weave, or create a work of art,” said Feucht. She recalled one student who, in sign language, told her “Finally, I get to be myself in the art room.”

“For many kids, art and music are the part of the day they most look forward to,” Feucht added.  “In times of stress, art allows students to express their feelings in ways that words cannot.”

On Nov. 2, voters in the Battle Ground school district will be asked to approve a replacement levy to continue vital funding for the next four years that helps to provide for programs such as drama, music, and art. If the existing levy expires at the end of 2021 without a replacement in place, the district would face the loss of more than $28 million in revenue, necessitating deep cuts to staffing and programs.

Decisions on where cuts would come in the event of a double levy failure have not yet been made, but a loss of levy dollars would inevitably result in fewer opportunities for students, and less funding for essential programs.

While music classes might survive being eliminated entirely, Pierce said, it’s likely she wouldn’t have funding to provide instruments for students who can’t afford them. “No family should be turned away from arts education because of their family’s financial situation. When funding is cut, there are less opportunities for all of our students and it isn’t as equitable across the board.”

 

For drama students, a levy loss would mean fewer opportunities to put together a show. Henry said that would be heartbreaking for students who otherwise might never get a chance to perform in front of an audience and experience the teamwork and effort that goes into putting together a production. “This is their sport,” he said. “Without drama, you lose that connection so many of these kids need that they can’t get anywhere else.”

Band practice

The loss of drama would be a massive blow to students like Lorelei Hunsaker, a BGHS senior who took the program all four years. “Drama club has been a constant,” she said. “It’s a place where I can always go and be with people similar to me. Be with my people.”

“It helps people find their confidence, find their voice, find who they want to be,” Bessas added. 

“Even though it has only been a month, it just feels like home,” agreed freshman Ella Galloway. “I haven’t felt that as much anywhere else here, but drama just feels right.”

Replacement levy facts

The replacement levy in front of voters on Nov. 2 is not a new tax. It would replace a levy approved in 2017 that is set to expire at the end of 2021. The replacement levy would be at a lower tax rate, dropping from $2.32 per $1,000 of assessed value this year, to $1.99 per $1,000 in 2022, the first year that the new levy would go into effect. 

Levy dollars make up the difference between what the state provides for basic K-12 education and what it actually costs to provide students with options that prepare them for today’s careers.

Visit the district’s levy information page for more facts about the replacement levy.

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