EVEN IF YOU CAN’T sing every line, you’ve probably heard the High School Musical chorus from “Stick to the Status Quo.” The show tune is sung by Troy’s (Zac Efron) classmates, confessing their secret passions and talents to their peer’s dismay. The film is an example of a student deciding to pursue a less popular after-school activity, in this case musical theatre, and feeling perpetually unsupported.

Before participating in Theatre in Our Schools (TIOS) Month, junior Lexie Bondoc from Valley View High School Thespian Troupe 4735 could relate to the musical’s main character. “In our school, the arts are overshadowed by sports,” she said. “Through participating in TIOS, I learned many people also felt that the arts should be advocated for more.”

Valley View’s work fighting the status quo started with TIOS Month, an annual EdTA program that enables thousands of students and theatre educators to raise awareness about the impact of theatre education and its importance for all students. Students, teachers, and Thespian troupes pledge to participate in the monthlong initiative. In 2019, Valley View Thespians earned second-place recognition with a TIOS Outstanding Impact Award for their TIOS Month activities.

Every year, Daniel Cuasay, Valley View’s drama club president, gets excited to inform others about the benefits of theatre education. “It is exceptionally important for students to participate in TIOS because theatre teaches a multitude of essential life skills: empathy, honesty, leadership, success and failure, tolerance, and the significance of hard work,” he said. “Participation in TIOS is a gateway for millions of students to break through their shell and find their passion.”

Thespians Bianca Fuentes and Yasmin Farias discovered their passion for filmmaking when they created Valley View’s student advocacy video. A Day Without Theatre was released the fall before TIOS at the California State Thespian Festival. The short film juxtaposes a high school day without theatre against a high school day with theatre education and ends with an audience at the school’s fall musical sharing their support for the arts.

Creation of the advocacy video was one of many TIOS events for which Valley View students took the lead. The planning process is an additional exercise the theatre’s director Jeanine Lopez uses to build her Thespians’ confidence.

“I thought my students did not believe in themselves as much as they should, but I realized that when I set the bar high, they usually met or exceeded my expectations because they knew that I believed in them,” she said. “So, they are the ones who do all the work. They make sure people know about our program and how important it is.”

Valley View’s TIOS activities last year included Thespian performances at the arts talent show, daily social media posts and student-written announcements, volunteering for the Special Education Prom, and participating on a panel for Arts Now to educate school faculty and local businesspeople about the benefits of arts education. Students also wrote advocacy letters to local and state representatives, and they attended the California Youth in Theatre Day (CYIT), where students were able to speak to their district representative in person about the importance of arts education. Although Bondoc did not attend, her classmates’ results motivated her advocacy for the coming year.

“CYIT inspired me as a sophomore because my troupe members flew out to represent our theatre in front of dozens of people,” she said. “I was mesmerized, and I’m excited to experience this myself.”

While students were proud of the efforts they were making in their community, Lopez was most proud of the students’ efforts within the Valley View halls, including the Thespians’ work for the last two years at the Special Education Prom.

“Students built the backdrop for the prom’s photobooth, and they volunteered for face painting,” she said. “It gives them a chance to work with different people, and they really enjoy having the ability to work with other departments.”

Working together grabbed the attention of Valley View’s school district. During TIOS Month 2019, district members signed an advocacy resolution for equal arts for all students, a moment particularly important to Cuasay.

“It provided a concrete reference point of the expectations and support that the district would give us,” he said.

Valley View Thespians continue to ensure district support for equal arts education during their bimonthly meeting with their school superintendent. Bondoc said, “It is important for students to participate in TIOS because everyone should realize they have a voice and what they say really matters.”

Visit the Theatre In Our Schools webpage to learn more about TIOS Month.

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