Today’s post is a little different than my usual fare, but I wanted to share with you an issue that has become all too common in education today.
Our local Board of Education has decided to drastically cut the Music and Foreign Language Programs for the next school year. This means that Elementary Band and Strings are gone, two middle school band teachers must do the work of four, and all languages but Spanish and Italian will be dropped. Well, I can tell you that my jaw dropped when I heard this news!
Currently my son is a Freshman who participates in the Marching Band and takes German I. While his music program is not being cut, all the programs that feed into his are. What this means is that in a year or so, the High School Marching Band will be a shadow of its former self. Without students gaining musical experience at the lower levels, there’s just no way that the high school band can continue to perform to the same high standards.
It’s surprising to me (although I suppose it shouldn’t be) that the elementary program is being targeted. It has doubled, maybe even tripled, in the past three years under the current band teacher. The young students are excited about playing and have done well in the All-South Jersey Elementary Band. As a substitute teacher, I often see students proudly carrying their instrument cases into school; they are eager to tell me all about what they are playing when I ask.
At the middle school level, the proposed cuts would be nothing short of catastrophic for one program in particular. The Rossi Intermediate Band (of which my son is an alumni) has excelled in the face of difficult scheduling and virtually no budget, mostly due to the efforts of its talented director and dedicated, supportive parents. Last year, this group competed in New York City at a national competition and came home with Gold and the Spirit Award! This year, the Rossi Band heads to Washington, DC to face other Gold winners in an invitation-only event. Quite prestigious for a little band from New Jersey. With a director in charge of two school bands, however, the focus and dedication of both programs are seriously diminished by a single factor – loss of precious practice time.
For some reason, it is always the arts that suffer when school budgets are on the table. Even though study after study has proven the positive effects of music education – better test scores, more focus in class, increased social acuity – instrumental music is always the first thing to go. I chose a public education for my son because of the availability of a thriving music program – our local private schools do not have marching band in the curriculum. As a product of a public education and a marching band alumna, I want my child to have the same wonderful opportunities that I did. The chance to try something hard (you try marching in formation and playing at the same time), to make mistakes, to rely on someone else, to think, to grow, to be a part of something much bigger than yourself. This is what music in our schools is all about!
It is more than a line item on a budget, and it certainly affects more students than our school board realizes.
As for the Foreign Language Program, I am stunned that German, Russian and French would be completely dropped from the curriculum. Our students receive Spanish education from Kindergarten through 8th Grade; for those who want to continue, that’s great. But others would like a chance to learn something new. In the case of my son, he is very interested in science and medicine; knowing that many of the great science documents in history were written in German, we felt that this was a good choice for him. Students who want to study art or history benefit from a background in French. And while I don’t know much about the Russian program, recently 15 Russian language students competed in a statewide contest, and all 15 came home with awards! And they want to cut their program? It makes no sense.
When we start to limit our children’s opportunities, we limit our own future.
I know, there are kids who can’t read and can’t do math, so why am I whining about the extras like music and language. Because to me, they are not extras – they often make quite a difference in a young person’s life and so should be available to all students. If we take them away, we are catering to the lowest common denominator; our children will be learning just the basics to get by in this world. Well I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough!
And so tomorrow night I will put on my red shirt (school colors) and join other parents, teachers, and students to show my support of the arts at the local Board of Education Meeting. I want my son (and all the other students) to see and know that they are not alone, that they are supported, and their programs are valued. Regardless of the outcome, these young people will learn that something worth doing is certainly worth fighting for.
Please, wherever you may live, support the arts in education. Thank you!