Students at Pomona High School walked out of class on March 29 in protest of the school’s budget cuts to their arts program, which were announced on March 17.
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Students at Pomona High School walked out of class on March 29 in protest of the school’s budget cuts to their arts program, which were announced on March 17. The walkout is part of a larger student-led effort to preserve the cut programs and teachers.
A large group of students walked out of their classes before 10 a.m. on March 29 holding signs pleading with school administrators to reconsider the cuts.
After receiving an email detailing the cuts, Pomona Senior Erin McGovern knew she had to do something. So she began organizing.
“All I was thinking for that was, ‘What is the biggest statement we can make, what is the biggest thing we can do to make people realize that we’re here?’ And so it was like, ‘Well yes, we could protest, we could bring this to (school administration), but he’s clearly not listening, so how much noise can we make in what little time we have,’” McGovern said.
The support was instantaneous.
“I just kind of put it out there, and I got the section leaders to be like, ‘What if we walked out?’ and it was like, ‘Oh, this is a good idea,’” McGovern said.
In a March 17 email to Pomona families, Principal Andy Giese—who is leaving the school at the end of the year—outlined the “challenges that we need to adapt to” for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year in light of Pomona’s declining enrollment. Giese said that electives are offered in accordance with student interest, and that since student interest was dropping in numbers in certain areas, cuts were necessitated.
The email noted that full-time Instrumental Music Teacher Armando Solis’ position was cut, along with three other teachers and a dean. Giese noted that a math teacher, social studies teacher and a world languages teacher all have their next teaching jobs secured and said, “We’ll make sure the others get their next job, too.”
A Change.org petition to ‘Preserve Instrumental Music at Pomona High School’ has gathered over 7,500 signatures and mentions that the school is cutting four ensembles—three instrumental ensembles and one choral ensemble. Giese’s email also mentions that a part-time theatre teacher position was eliminated, and journalism will not be offered next year.
Giese’s email cites declining enrollment at the school as cause for the cuts, and says that, “If students want more choir classes in the future, they just need to request it in larger numbers.”
The email continued with Giese saying, "Declining enrollment is an issue for our school community to address sometime soon. It’s good to be a school of about 1,150 students. That’s a nice size where everybody kind of knows everybody. I like our smaller school. But we don’t want to keep getting smaller. We want it to level out."
For many arts students, the programs offer a community and safe haven free from the confines of the traditional high school social ecosystem.
“I’m angry because they’re taking away my home. This is my home. They’re taking away our home from future people, they’re taking away that chain of support that every arts department has. You don’t feel like you’re going to be judged, you’re welcome, and you feel like you belong there,” said Sloan, a senior in the theatre department.
“It’s definitely that safe space, and I know, especially for minority groups and for LGBT groups, I mean, they’re so critical. I know it’s been a big part of my experience and me being happy with who I am and all of that, and I know it’s the case for lots of students,” McGovern said.
One student who identified as non-binary said that their theatre teacher was the first person they came out to. They expressed worry for future students going through the same thing.
“I’ve seen a lot of benefits from having these programs, whether it’s having more friends, to having kind of an escapism in anything,” Soren said.
“It’s definitely a safe space,” Vincent Chamberlain, a sophomore, said.
“What we lack in numbers, we make up for in community,” Bennet Archer, a senior, added.
Archer said that although many of the organizers of the walkout are seniors, they’re motivated maintain the parts of Pomona that were special to them.
“We want to leave a legacy for the other students and create a home for them in whatever the decide to do," Archer said.
Pomona’s band program was renowned on the national level during the '90s, winning several state championships and competing in the Bands of America Grand Nationals.
“They’ve been watching the decline,” Sloan said of the school’s band alums. “One of the people that I talked to said, ‘I marched in the late 1990s, and Pomona’s band was 180 people, it was huge, we were a powerhouse,’ and she asked me how many people were in our marching band this year and I was like, ’There were 18 or 20.’ She was like, ‘180 to 18 — are you kidding me?’”
A statement from the Jefferson County School District said that although the school wouldn’t have a full-time instrumental music teacher, interested students would have access to related courses.
“Based on Pomona High School student selections, a full-time instrumental and vocal teacher was not warranted for the 2022-2023 school year. Students who signed up for instrumental and vocal music courses will have the opportunity to take these courses from excellent music teachers who are shared among multiple school campuses," the statement said.
On March 28, Giese sent an email to Pomona families addressing the walkout where he said that students are “within their rights to protest” but that it would be “unfortunate” to lose class time to a walkout.
“We at Pomona do not condone student walkouts and discourage students from engaging in this type of activity, as it disrupts the school day and impacts student learning,” Giese’s email said.
He continued to say that he would be available to speak with students about their concerns on the 28.
“I will be available to talk to students on Tuesday during lunch in the cafeteria, and I'm in the halls available to students during passing periods. They should feel comfortable sharing their concerns directly with me,” Giese’s email said.
Editor’s note: Erin McGovern is a former intern of the Arvada Press.
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