By: Shannon Kellogg
Last month, Warren County School District students received an online survey. Students in music programs took a separate survey from non-music students. The survey included many questions about why more students are not involved in the music programs, which led up to questions about consolidation of the music programs. The students also had to specify what schools they were from. Additionally, the survey had boxes for the students to offer suggestions and comments about their feelings.
Upon seeing the survey, the students understood what might be happening down the road. A “district-wide” ensemble at one school, with one instructor, would eliminate opportunities for students at three of the four high schools in Warren County. However, WCSD Superintendent Amy Stewart shared with The Squire, “Consolidation of programs is only one idea that has been brought forward, to date. We are very open to hearing other ways to increase participation in music programs in the schools.”
Supporters of the idea of consolidating programs could argue that such an action might increase opportunities for WCSD students; however, to think that every student would benefit from losing music programs at their home school is shortsighted. Our school district covers around 900 square miles, and, as Mr. Mark Napolitan, EHS Music Instructor and Concert and Marching Band Advisor, points out, “Transportation would be a huge issue. Many students do not drive or have families with limited modes of transportation.”
Another large factor that impacts the music ensembles is the lack of staff and poor scheduling due to the district’s need to save money. Students with Honors or AP classes have all found that those courses are scheduled in the same periods as Choir and Band. This forces the best and brightest students to give up their only creative outlet throughout the day because they simply have no other choice. While one may argue that a district-wide ensemble would fix this problem, it actually would deter more students from the music programs because they would lose another period of their day to travel time. Ms. Joy McMonigal, EHS Choral Instructor, tells The Squire, “It is my hope, as a district employee and music teacher, that these surveys are used in a manner to improve scheduling within each school to better fit the needs of the artistic students.” She also adds that an improvement in scheduling would expand commitment to the music programs if students knew they could consistently fit music classes into their schedules. This year, Ms. McMonigal has seen a 50% decrease in her choral ensembles from last year, due to the decrease of periods in the school day and unfortunate scheduling.
After several years of teacher furloughs and district budget shortages, many Warren County schools have fewer staff overall, resulting in tighter scheduling and less available staff to support more sections of classes. While it is understood that the district has had the difficult task of determining how to overcome financial challenges in many of the recent budget years, prioritizing staffing schools with the needed staff to allow for more flexible student schedules would help support the arts programs, giving students the openings in their schedules to take the courses they desire at their home schools. While it would be a financial cost to the district, it would be a worthwhile investment to help encourage students to pursue artistic outlets in the comfort of their home buildings.
While many claim that one large ensemble would be a good thing, students and teachers at the outlying schools feel otherwise. Lydia Giannini was a long time music student at Eisenhower until her senior year when she was forced to give up her instrument and travel to Warren Area High School in order to take an AP Chemistry course that she would need for her Chemical Engineering major next fall. When talking with The Squire about her feelings towards consolidated music programs Giannini stated, “It doesn’t matter how many students you have in an ensemble. Without strong relationships, you’ll never be as good as a smaller, closer, more connected, ensemble.” Lydia strongly feels that her small band program experience here at Eisenhower has benefited her in a way that no other collaboration could have, and she has chosen not to participate in Warren High School’s Concert Band.
According to Search Institute, there are 40 developmental assets “that help young people grow up healthy, caring, and responsible.” The majority of these qualities are benefits that one can only enjoy at a small school with a close-knit family atmosphere such as, creative activities, caring school climate, school engagement, sense of purpose, and so many more. In a larger school or program, students might not feel as connected, engaged, or important. If a consolidation happens, it will take away from one of the most important things that should be learned in high school: how to create meaningful relationships.
No matter who you are, or what you are involved in, always be aware of what is going on around you. Fight for what you value and believe in, and encourage others to do the same. As a long time music student, I can say that my experiences in Eisenhower’s music programs have blessed me with long-lasting relationships, built my courage, given me a sense of pride and accomplishment, and taught me countless life lessons. Without the opportunity to express myself through music in the small and comfortable community that is Eisenhower Middle High School’s music program, I would not be the same person I am today.
The WCSD Administration knows that many students are alarmed about the future of their music programs. Mrs. Stewart wants concerned students to “Share honest and productive feedback when asked about the issue.” She also shared that Mr. Mineweaser and herself will be scheduling meetings at each school after the new year to talk with students about the survey results and they “will be open to hearing additional student input at that time.”
“Music can change the world because it can change people.” – Bono