Music belongs in the public schools, especially at a time when instruction is so focused on testing. All students should have the chance to pursue a passion for music – whether it’s through band, orchestra, or choir programs – regardless of gender, race and income level. It makes them better students and better people. It makes our communities better places to live. If a school district loses its commitment to educating students in the arts, it loses its soul.
I believe these things, passionately – so passionately, in fact, that I had some trouble last night keeping the emotion out of my voice when I spoke in front of the school board. I hope it didn’t deter from my message.
I was one of four parents who addressed the Northfield School Board regarding the possible cuts to elementary band and orchestra for next year. Here's a link to the story on Northfield Patch.
Parents and other interested community members will also have the chance to speak Wednesday (tomorrow) at a public hearing on the budget, which is set for 7 p.m. at the high school auditorium.
I learned before the meeting that Superintendent Chris Richardson was recommending that the district keep both the elementary band and orchestra teacher positions, which had been targeted for elimination by a committee of citizens and staff charged with finding ways to cut the elementary program budget. Richardson explained his recommendations in a letter posted yesterday on the school district website.
Knowing this, I didn’t feel it was necessary for me to get up in front of the board and explain all the reasons why I think it’s important to retain elementary band and orchestra. Plus, the other parents who spoke before me made some wonderful points about the success of the strings program in Northfield, about the developmental reasons for starting kids on string instruments in elementary school, and about how cutting orchestra in elementary school would essentially kill the program at the secondary level.
|Sebastian before a 5th grade orchestra concert in December 2008.|
|Sebastian playing in the 7th grade orchestra at a festival in Woodbury in February 2011.|
These are dark times in public education funding. The system is so confusing, it’s easy to tune out, to cross one’s fingers and hope for the best. But if the governor and the legislature can’t arrive at some solutions, if voters can’t look past their own short-term needs and commit to putting their money behind what’s important for us as a state (yes, I’m talking about raising taxes), the budget cuts will return, year after year, to suck the life out of public education until there’s nothing left.
We all need to stay informed. We need to encourage creative solutions. We need to reward innovation and big-picture thinking.
Fortunately, there are some inspirational stories out there. Just last week, reporter Norman Draper wrote a story in the South section of the Star Tribune about The Beatles Project and other efforts to boost music and art programs in the state.
According to the story, the band director in Brooklyn Center has expanded the band program, and has sought grants to ensure that every student, regardless of income, has access to an instrument. In the Rosemount/Apple Valley/Eagan district, officials worked to boost the numbers of low-income minority students involved in music at one of its elementary schools, resulting in a jump in band members from 23 to 80.
When asked why a school would expand music programs in a tight economic time, the Brooklyn Center band director was quoted as saying, “My personal philosophy is every kid deserves a chance to participate in band.”
My thoughts exactly.