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Kathryn Pisaro: Protect music programs in Newhall School District

Posted: March 2, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 2, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

On Tuesday, the school board for the Newhall School District is going to be asked to cut a music teacher from our already-reduced music program.

Right now, our district has 900 students in the band and orchestra program and 800 students in the choir program offered to fourth through sixth graders and all K-3 students. About 4,000 kids have general music.

All of these students are seen every week during the school day by credentialed music teachers who travel to two schools a day, often eating their lunch in the car while they drive so they can tear down the setup from one school and set up at the next.

We have five music teachers teaching 5,000-plus students in 10 different elementary schools each week. Our three instrumental teachers teach 900 students a week (that’s 300 students per teacher!) and are specialists in teaching instrumental music to this age group.

They have been trained to play and teach every string and wind instrument. Along with that, they are actual professional working musicians in the Los Angeles area. They live what they teach.

Each school has three possible orchestra and band levels available for the students. The strings can be in beginning, intermediate or advanced orchestra and the wind players can be in beginning, intermediate or advanced band.

Students can also sing in the choir, which also meets at every school every week.

Our district also offers honor orchestra and solo opportunities at the spring concert for the best players in the district: an incredible experience for these young players. My son worked very hard to get into honor orchestra and was so proud of his success.

Based on the size of the school, the number of students in the music program at each school, and the ability of the students in that age group, some of the orchestra and band periods have smaller and some larger ensembles.

In a smaller school with fewer students, one of the ensembles may have six students. In a larger school, there may be 35 and, of course, the size of these groups changes each year.

These instrumental teachers are often the only instructor a child has for his or her instrument, and it’s amazing what they can do with so many students a week (and still remember all of their names).

Newhall School District is one of the last remaining districts in Southern California to offer school-day music instruction by specially credentialed music teachers.

This is a big selling feature for our community and why we moved into the Newhall School District specifically — we wanted the music program.

Our son survived some very difficult times with bullies by focusing on his music and the support of his music teachers.

The Newhall School District administration is going to present a proposal at Tuesday’s school board meeting to cut one of our instrumental music teachers from the program.

I am amazed that three teachers can teach almost 1,000 students a week as it is. How can two teachers do everything needed to successfully run an instrumental music program for an entire district?

Instead of cutting a music position, music opportunities in our schools should be expanded in our valley. Research has shown that music helps students in many ways, including brain development for language, reasoning and spatial intelligence.

Students who study the arts perform better on standardized tests such as the SAT and achieve higher grades in high school. (http://www.childrensmusicworkshop.com/advocacy/12benefits.html)

I don’t know if people realize the amazing things these teachers do or how much we expect of them. I didn’t until my son joined the music program and I quickly became awed by what these teachers do on a daily basis.

Students continue into our award-winning junior high music programs and provide the backbone for our nationally renowned high school bands and orchestras.

Professional musicians nationwide started in our Newhall School District music program. Music program alumni can be as successful as the top athletes in our valley, which in Santa Clarita is saying something!

If you can’t make the meeting Tuesday, or you want to have a greater impact on the school board members’ vote, you can tell the board you support music by e-mail (NSD-GoverningBoard@newhall.k12.ca.us), phone 661-291-4000, or send a letter to 25375 Orchard Village Road, St. 200, Santa Clarita, CA 91355.

I urge everyone to come fill the board meeting room with supporters Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the district office, located at the address above.

Kathryn Pisaro is a Newhall School District mom.

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