Saturday, December 13, 2014

The State of our School Music Program

I enjoyed watching my 8th grade son Gianni and the Trexler Middle School Orchestra perform at their annual Winter Concert. The band and chorus were also enjoyable. I loved the band's fun rendition of "Louie, Louie." This is my son's 6th year performing as a violinist. When he was in elementary school, he played piano as well as violin. He enjoys playing violin at school. The dedicated students, teachers, and parents should be commended for their commitment to keeping instrumental music alive in the Allentown SD. Students must attend early rehearsals at 7 am, before school starts, 2-3 times a week. It's a big commitment.

Over the past 4 years, the Allentown SD has greatly reduced its music programs, cutting related arts teachers as a short sighted solution to a budget crisis. Over 1/4 of staff has been lost over 4 years. At the middle schools, that's a 50% reduction in long standing arts programs that children need. One  classroom music teacher is stretched to cover two middle schools. Some middle school students won't have music class all year. A school's curriculum should reflect what a community values, and our city leaders tell us that the arts are a  centerpiece in Allentown's  "rebirth." So, why aren't the arts just as important at our city public schools? The reality is quite the opposite, and children who attend city schools are being short-changed.

Trexler MS serves approximately 1,000 students, but there are only 14 students in the orchestra. It seems like each year, that number gets smaller. The instrumental music teacher is stretched too thin, as are all ASD related arts teachers. She teaches both band and orchestra. Our small but mighty orchestra sounds terrific, but should be much bigger. I'd hate to see this program just disappear. These programs need community support, and moreTEACHERS. Arts enrichment and integration to replace certified teachers is insufficient. We need TEACHERS who connect with students, providing consistency and continuity. 

The ASD city schools are community schools, they anchor Allentown's neighborhoods, and need to be improved, not abandoned. Expansion of trendy charter schools to serve select students, currently drain $37.8 million away from our district schools.  Public education is a public service for every child. Traditional public schools don't  turn children away. Please vote for school board candidates who can see the bigger picture, who support improving existing schools, who are not afraid to take a stand and restore arts teachers across the district instead of building new experimental high schools at the whims of local corporations. Education is much more than just  job training. By participating in the arts, students learn skills needed to be successful in any career, but more importantly, the arts bring joy and meaning to children's lives right now.