USD 457 School Board rejects recommendation to remove fifth grade band, orchestra

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
Members of Garden City High School's marching band perforn during a home football game in September at Buffalo Stadium.  The USD 457 school board rejected the idea of removing the fifth-grad band and orchestra programs at its meeting on Monday.

USD 457 Board of Education decided not to follow staff's recommendation to remove fifth grade band and orchestra at Monday's regular Board meeting.

Orchestra and band are elective courses which meet every other day, alternating with physical education. Students are introduced to instruments and the beginning skills to play them in the courses.

The request for the deletion of the course came due to bussing students from Abe Hubert, Plymell and Jennie Barker schools to Bernadine Sitts and from Charles O. Stones to Kenneth Henderson. The classes are large and hard to accommodate. 

Gina Galpin, principal at Bernadine Sitts said the classes are large, some have over 60 students and are hard to accommodate. 

"it's very difficult for the teachers to instruct," she said.

Additionally, the recommendation to remove the course also stated that the students who are bussed in miss core instruction and the band concerts are too large for the K-6 facilities. 

Amy Ricks, principal at Charles O. Stones, said when students had to travel from Kenneth Henderson to her school the orchestra class they lost about 15 minutes of instruction while waiting for the instructor to get to the school. 

The effect of removing the course would have been offering band and orchestra as an Encore class to sixth grade students. The course would have met every day and class sizes would have been smaller. 

Galpin said the recommendation would allow for students to stay in their buildings, the teachers would travel to them and class sizes would be smaller. 

The written recommendation states that meeting every day would make up for the missed year of instruction. 

Since the recommendation was rejected, fifth grade band and orchestra will return in the coming school year. Fifth grade band and orchestra were not offered for the 2020-21 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, where the district limited class sizes to accommodate social distancing.  

Board member Dana Nanninga said she's a huge believe in the benefits of music and that the earlier an instrument can get into students hands the better, so the recommendation was hard for her to agree with. 

"When we talk about making decisions that are in the best interest of students, I have a hard time wrapping my head around how this would be better for students when I feel like actually we should be probably having instruments to them sooner than fifth grade," she said. 

Board member Jennifer Standley agreed and said she's afraid that they would lose students choosing to participate in music if they don't start in fifth grade. 

"Finding a way to keep them in music and starting them a little earlier I think is something (that needs to be considered)," she said. "Of all the advantages we have at our country schools, sometimes I think our country schools miss out on some music things and I think it's important to find a way to keep them starting their instruments at fifth grade."

Violet Dubois, middle school band director at Horace Good and Kenneth Henderson, agrees. Dubois sent a letter, which was read during correspondence, on how she did not agree with the recommendation to remove fifth grade band an orchestra. 

90% of the Dubois seventh grade students started band and only 10 percent who are new to band started in sixth grade. She is worried that removing the opportunity for students to start learning an instrument earlier will deplete the number of students in the middle school music classes. 

Dubois said there is a difference between those who have started learning an instrument in fifth grade to those who began in sixth grade in the amount of knowledge and understanding of their instrument and their desire to learn more. 

"The start in fifth grade adds value to the level of growth and instruction I can provide for them. As fifth graders they are ready to apply what they have learned in general music and use it at a higher level," she said. "We have a wonderful music program in Garden City because the students are given the opportunity to start earlier. We build all our programs from the bottom up and music is no exception. Learning different skills earlier is beneficial and I have seen this first hand with my own students."

Curtis Wedel, choir director at Horace Good and Kenneth Henderson, also sent a letter that stated his agreement with Dubois.

"By the time students get to fifth grade and are ready to participate in something that isn't general music ... Having them start in the fifth grade will give them the opportunity to expand on what they know and help them develop their musicianship skills for their future in music," he said. 

Studies have found that learning music earlier helps cognitive development and provides opportunities for socialization, support efficient brain processing, encourage self-expression and lower stress levels, Dubois said. 

"The benefits of starting in fifth grade extend far beyond music education," she said. "I strongly believe that eliminating those classes at the fifth grade level will be detrimental to the program we've been dedicated to make successful."

Board member Janene Radke agrees with Dubois and Wedel. She know that it's difficult to juggle schedules, to find space for the classes and to find the talent to teach, but believes it's important to find a way to provide music services for students.

"Music is such a critical part of brain development and expression and creativity that although I appreciate the situation they've had this year, I feel like we should be able to find some way to provide services for kids in fifth grade as well as sixth grade," she said. 

Board president Lara Bors agrees.

"We say we want what is best for children, we say that repeatedly and try to vote in a manner for what is best for children and I believe keeping fifth grade band or reinstituting it as I was told we were going to be doing that next year, is what is best for our kids," she said.