Schools looking to restore MS music

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
After experiencing the loss of some programming at the middle schools, the district is looking into how to restore it, with the hope of bringing back classroom music.
Last summer, a committee, (made up of teachers and administrators), was formed to look at some possibilities for reinstating part, if not all of what the district lost in programming, said Bristol Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ellen Solek during a school board meeting held last Wednesday. This committee met over the course of several months to work through the issues and concerns about the loss in programming, and created some recommendations for the district.
“With the onset of struggle economically and other difficulties that we faced in 2011-12, the district suffered a loss of staffing and a loss of programming at the middle school level,” said Solek.
Solek said during its research, the committee looked at existing middle school schedules and previous middle school programming schedules. One recommendation included reinstituting classroom music into the middle school program of studies. Another recommendation included eliminating the middle school vocal technique classes, (which are small group or individual pull-out classes for students interested in vocal music lessons).
“We would need that staff to provide that classroom music instruction instead of pulling out students for small group or individual format,” said Solek. “I love the idea that students can study vocal music on an individual basis, but we would not have the staff to support that nor classroom music.”
During the meeting, Solek and Ken Bagley, the music director, presented an outline of a possible new middle school music curriculum.
Bagley said the outline is a new way of teaching music to middle school students, noting how music helps foster life/career skills, global awareness, and creativity.
In June, the National Core Art Standards came out, which includes music, dance, visual arts, and theater, said Bagley.  The standards serve as a conceptual framework for learning the arts that focus on more than several different ideas, such as creating, performing, responding and connecting.
“These are a new set of standards that just came out and we are currently in the process of unwrapping those standards to see what’s in them,” said Bagley.
Bagley noted several possible themes to include in the new music curriculum, such as “music around the world,” which would give students an opportunity to delve into drumming. Bagley said world drumming also can possibly be linked to the social studies curriculum, as students learn about different countries.
He added drumming also would play a role in children’s cognitive development.
“Drumming in general has become popular in therapy and in music education as an avenue to introduce students to cultures from around the world,” said Bagley, adding drumming would help students “connect” to the outside world. “Through the drumming process, they’re learning techniques…different patterns.”
Another theme, called “melody makers,” would focus on music literacy.
“We need to have more opportunities for…our students who just want to write songs and compose,” said Bagley.
A third theme Bagley presented was “composition and technology,” which would allow students to be creative through different kinds of computer programs while making them more engaged in the music making process.
Solek said the value of music education not only lies in its entertainment, but also in the kinds of skills it allows students to acquire.
Solek said the next step involves how to actually make the curriculum happen, addressing the issues of schedules, staffing, and needed materials and supplies. Solek will discuss those details further with the Student Achievement Committee before bringing the presentation back to the board in March.
“The real idea is to expose our middle school students to not only…the entertainment value of music…but also to be able to understand that language is truly a language,” said Solek, adding the hope is to start the new curriculum during the 2015-16 school year. “It heightens their skills in literacy, in mathematics and science, gives them an idea of self-discipline and practice-approach to learning is all about, and most importantly gives them an understanding…of what the values are in performance-based assessment.”
During the meeting, Board of Education Commissioner Karen Vibert said the new curriculum outline is “extremely robust” and a “huge improvement.” But she also expressed concern about the health and wellness classes.
“I would hate to see that diminished in any way,” said Vibert. “This age is a critical time in young people’s lives, and I want to make sure we don’t…cut that program.”
Solek replied that issue also was a concern for the committee, which will work to ensure that other programs, such as health and wellness, are not compromised.
School Board Chairman Larry Amara said he was pleased to see the committee worked on the new curriculum prior to the budget process. “I’m glad it’s taking place now and that we’re moving forward,” said Amara.