In an effort to make her testimony to the Montgomery County Board of Education stand out a teacher broke into song, just like they do in a musical, to make an impassioned plea to the Board to keep arts funding in the budget.
Seneca Valley High School theater teacher Joanna Chilcoat Fellows sang, or rapped, her testimony the Board of Education Budget Hearing held on Wednesday, January 16 at Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville.
“How does the superintendent, council, and Board of Education think fine arts don’t need administration? We need a content specialist because the best of us are just making a mess of it, we stressin’ it,” sang Fellows as the music to the song played in the background. Fellows rapped her testimony to the song “Alexander Hamilton” from the hit Broadway musical Hamilton.
“The replacement lyrics just kind of fell out,” Fellows told Germantown Pulse. “It took a couple of hours. My students helped me. They listened to a few of my drafts — and my husband, of course. He probably knows it by heart at this point. Once the idea was born, it was easy to write.”
Fellows, impassioned plea to the Board of Ed was in response to the Superintended Jack Smith’s proposed the Fiscal Year 2019 Operating Budget which would cut MCPS’ one full-time fine arts content specialist from a to a part-time position.
“There is one content specialist that oversees all of the visual arts, dance, and the theater programs for the entire county,” said Fellows. “That position is also responsible for helping teachers generate new curriculum, professional development, and be a lifeline for teachers in the schools. Many of the theater teachers in the high schools are the only ones in our buildings doing what we are doing.”
“It has meant a lot to have that content specialist in the central office to have a voice and somebody who is supportive and a unifying force for all the theater teachers in the county,” she said. “When I heard they were going to cut that position in half and make it part-time position, I was aghast. If the cuts go through, that content specialist will do that job part-time and teach in a school part-time. That is a disservice to that person in that position. It is a disservice to fine arts teachers throughout the county, and it is a disservice to our students.”
Fellows said she picked the song from Hamilton because of the impact that Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit musical has had on the culture and arts education in the country.
“I have a couple of stanzas of a High School Musical song written too, but the Hamilton song just felt right,” she said. “Especially with all the influence that Hamilton has had in bringing attention to arts education, and the need for diversity, and how empowering Hamilton has been for so many people.”
She said she just wanted to try to move the Board members to understand the importance of arts education. “I had gone to the meeting the week before and, it was terribly boring, to be honest. I knew I was going to testify the following week and I thought that I had to find a way to make the Board of Education feel the way that I feel. What better way to do that than to show them the power of the arts by giving them something like that. I few of the Board members looked like they were moved. In a brief performance, they looked like there were impacted. Some people in the audience seemed to have tears. The reception was great, exactly what I was hoping for,” said Fellows.
The video was posted to YouTube by Kimberly Sterin.
Photo by Germantown Pulse.