Culture needs to change

I read with some disappointment that the School Board made a fiscal decision to cut back in the music program, based on demand. The interest from the student body on core music classes is not high enough to support the full-time funding of this position. That is sound financial management, and the board’s decision was one they had no choice but to make.

But it begs the question: Why no interest? Why do families and students not understand the importance of involving students in the fine arts programs when available? In part, we have said that our music educators need to be better about recruiting students into their programs. If only the same thing could be said about hockey, for example, where one would typically have to have try-outs, and only a small percentage of those expressing interest would actually be afforded a chance to make the team.

Before you jump to the conclusion that this is anti-sports rhetoric, please know that my son played hockey and I coached the sport for nine years. Rather, this is an examination of the community and school culture that fails to support and understand the true value of our fine arts curriculum and the return on that important investment.

My children attended school in a neighboring district, where in high school, they were afforded the chance to be taught by an orchestra teacher, a choir director, a band instructor and finally a theater teacher. The involvement in these fine arts programs was amazing, and the concerts and plays each year were almost always sold out. Often, they put out additional chairs or held multiple performances so everyone would have a chance to attend.

All three children went on the receive substantial scholarships to three prestigious higher learning institutions – Carnegie Melon, Florida State and Berklee College of Music in Boston. All three played sports, for which they received no financial support or funding as they entered their college years.

As I sat through three different scholarship and awards ceremonies for each of these children and their peers, I saw numerous substantial grants and scholarships being awarded to students with fine arts backgrounds. I also recognized, looking back, that almost every single honors student took part in either choir, orchestra or band. There was a distinct connection between academic achievement and the fine arts programs. The return on investment is there – and families need to realize this.

Recently there were articles in many of the metro papers and a feature on KARE 11 about Anoka High School’s Symphonic Rock Concert – a fundraiser for families in need. They sell so many tickets that they have to hold the concert on two days. Last year they raised $30,000, this year their goal was $50,000. Not only do all of the school music groups take part, but the teachers have their own band, and the superintendent even makes a guest appearance during which he plays and sings along with the bands.

Recruitment starts at the very top and works its way down. It should not be the job of the just the band director to awaken the community to get them to realize that there is value in steering our students toward the music and fine arts programs. The return on this investment is more than the potential for scholarships, it is learning cultural values and understanding that will last a lifetime. We need to change our culture, not based on a financial management plan, but based on what we deem to be important.

You can’t hand someone a single seed and ask them to plant it between the cracks in the pavement to grow an entire flower garden. Like any good program, in order for it to grow, you need a better foundation and much nourishment in order for the full garden to appear.

“If you build it, they will come.” — Jeff Beahen, Elk River