October 22, 2015

The Sound of Music

Music teacher Monica Benko singing with our preschoolers
You may have seen the article in the Daily Camera this week about music in elementary school classrooms. 

“A Boulder Valley (School District) task force looking at the ideal school day is considering changes to the fifth-grade instrumental music program — and is hearing opposition from teachers and parents…..(they are considering giving) students an equal amount of time for music, physical education, and art.  The task force is considering requiring fifth-graders to choose one music option or the other instead of taking both.”

A friend of mine with kids in a public school close to Friends’ posted the article on social media and attracted quite a few strong opinions against the proposed changes.

I shared the article with a few people in our Friends’ School community.  Our music teacher Monica Benko wrote back to me:

“This article makes me sad, as I was one of those kids that really wanted to do both choir and band in 5th grade.  To think about having to choose between either, would have broken my heart and probably would have made me less of who I am today.  Thank goodness I was able to do both in my schooling.

Also, this issue is close to my heart as my mother is a 5th grade elementary band teacher.  For the past six years, the school district that employs her has tried to eliminate her position and offer band in middle school only.  There was a tremendous backlash from the community, so luckily she maintains her position and continues to offer students the opportunity to do both band and choir in 5th grade. 

We have had many conversations on the telephone about how to teach the general public about the importance of music (to even those who don't study or have music as their occupation).  We find that in districts where sports and standardized testing are king, the administrations do not necessarily understand the benefits of instrumental education.

 If they only knew how beneficial music education was for the brains of their students, they would never suggest cutting it.  I always refer people to this video about the importance of instrumental education, as it does a great job of breaking down all the science (if you haven't seen it before, it's totally worth the 5 minute watch)...

It saddens me that BVSD is starting to think that instrumental music at a younger age for all students may not be necessary, since I firmly believe (like the National Association of Music Educators) that instrumental music should begin even EARLIER in 4th grade rather than 5th
 Monica Benko

I am also extremely happy that Friends’ School could get Denny and Gaylene to teach our 4th and 5th grade students band/orchestra.  This will only give them the best start to their middle school years musically and academically.  (Friends’ began offering band and orchestra after school this year.)

The more opportunities we can give our kids to express themselves, the happier and more fulfilled our students will be. “

We have expanded Monica’s responsibilities at Friends’ this year to include teaching music classes in the preschool, which is a new experience for her.  After our preschool parent/teacher conferences, Christie Stanford told me, “We have had countless parents tell us their child loves Monica. Additionally, we have children ask almost everyday if it is a music day. Hooray!”

In her time at Friends’, Monica has introduced a ukulele program and added a whole new curriculum.  Last week, Friends’ parents Russ and Diane Hullet hosted one of their famous house concerts featuring artist Joshua Davis for a fundraising event to support the Friends’ School music department.  Davis finished as a top finalist in NBC’s “The Voice” last May.  The concert raised $1,225 for our music program. These funds will go to buying a new set of mini drums, Djembes and Congas for the preschool, four more ukuleles for the elementary school, as well as repairing our Orff instruments - xylophones, metallophones, and glockenspiels.

It is a busy time in our music program. Dare I say the hills are alive….        

**Post script: after I initially published this blog, the BVSD School Board has since sent out a letter to the community stating: "the Board was unaware of the proposed changes until fairly recently when we started receiving concerned letters from parents and staff. The arguments for the current music curriculum are sound and our community is passionately opposed to the proposed change. I believe we need to take a step back and look at whether the changes BVSD is proposing are truly in the best interest of our children."                                                                                                                  

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