There are a few tasks I loathe with the blazing heat of a thousand exploding suns. These include (in no particular order) untangling kite strings, cleaning out the fridge, and sitting through long meetings, especially sessions in which everyone gets a turn to talk. This is why my impatient spirit was surprised when my body decided to hop in the car and drive us to a potentially lethal public school board meeting last Thursday night. (Did I mention how much I hate long meetings?)
The thing is, I felt compelled to say something after the news came out that my local school board, which oversees the poorest district in the county, proposed to cut 1.5 music teacher positions as part of an effort to close a $2.2 million dollar budget gap. Word on the street was that the two positions included a full time high school choral teacher and a part-time string instructor. My children’s school boasts the only string program on the west side of Rochester, New York.
Someone had to say SOMETHING, I reasoned.
I needn’t have worried. More than one hundred music students, teachers, and parents filled the hall to confront the board. The sheer cuteness of an eight year-old violinist’s impassioned plea to save her teacher’s job was enough to melt an iceberg.
By the time my name came up (after two hours of surprisingly interesting speeches from dozens of music supporters of all ages) there was hardly anything left to say. I came armed with a laundry list of statistics showing secondary school music students have low drug and alcohol use, higher test scores, and greater proficiency in math. They report lower stress, higher self-esteem, and, in some cases, show greater lung capacity than their non-music-making peers. Plus they experience the joy of the art.
But I was preaching to the choir.
I knew many of the board members; one is the father of two singers and a band student, and another regularly volunteers as an usher at the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. These were people who love and value music.
Their point was, schools have been and will be making painful choices.
What can you do to help sustain music programs in your school? Attend concerts. Write to your school board members. Praise the students. Praise the teachers.
Finally, look at this: the New York State School Boards Association offers a link to legislators so you can show support for schools, which now face one of the largest state aid cuts in history.
Say something. Your children and neighbors' children will benefit.