Saving Sixth Grade Music in the Anchorage School District **UPDATED**
by Linda Kellen Biegel
Not many people in political circles know that I credit music with saving my life.
I started playing the piano when I was six-years-old. I often kicked and screamed about practicing, but my mother was determined and I continued through my entire school career.
In sixth grade, I discovered the snare drum and concert band. I absolutely loved playing music with a group. That was around the time that I discovered that music was an escape from the insanity of my life at home.
Unfortunately in high school, I discovered that drugs and alcohol provided a different kind of escape. I dropped out of any band activity, though I continued with piano. My grades plummeted and it became clear that with only a 2.5 GPA junior year, I wouldn’t be getting into a decent college…
…until I started auditioning as a piano major. Suddenly, I was accepted at schools we couldn’t afford, like Temple University and Berkley School of Music. I received some modest scholarships to a couple of smaller schools but ended up going back home to Ohio and The University of Dayton. It was there that I truly fell in love with their much-touted marching band and was a member all four years. My membership in that band was my lifeline at a time when I was sinking deeper into alcoholism and depression.
When I made it to Alaska and sobriety, music reclaimed me. I even made a very tiny living for several years in the Anchorage music scene. Those were some of the best years of my life.
Music has now come full circle in my family. Morrigan took piano lessons for awhile. However, when a music teacher in grade school taught the kids to play penny whistle, we discovered that my daughter had a knack for the woodwinds. She started on the clarinet in sixth grade band and after only a couple of months, auditioned and was accepted into the Honor Band.
While the idea that music enhances math skills has been long claimed, recent studies show a more direct correlation between music and algebra:
Helmrich divided the students into three groups: Those who had received formal instruction on a musical instrument during the sixth, seventh and eighth grades; those who received choral instruction during those same years; and those who received no formal musical training.
She found the students who studied music significantly outperformed their peers. “Formal instrumental instruction impacted algebra scores the most,” she reports. “Choral instruction also affected scores, but to a lesser extent.”
From our experience, my husband and I noticed that as our daughter started to learn clarinet in sixth grade, she began to struggle less with her algebra assignments. Now, she’s two-years ahead in mathematics.
The video below is of the 2010 “Sonic Boom,” the end-of-the-year mass-performance of all sixth grade bands in the Anchorage School District.
If Governor Sean Parnell and Mayor Dan Sullivan have their way, this long-time Anchorage tradition may disappear, along with the entire sixth-grade music program.
We learned that last week the ASD Music Supervisor received a request for information from a school board member about the potential cost savings if 6th grade band and orchestra were to be eliminated.
The school board will have its final reading of and will be voting on the ASD budget on Thursday, Feb. 9, starting at 5:00 p.m. in the ASD Education Center Board room.
We can express our opinions regarding the importance of 6th Grade Band and Orchestra in the following ways:
1. Call or email the school board. To email the school board, send one message to SchoolBoard@asdk12.org and all seven members will receive it.
2. Testify at the Feb. 9 meeting. People can sign up to testify via the same email address or can call 742-4312. Testimony is taken in the order received.
3. Attend the meeting [5530 E Northern Lights Blvd, Anchorage] to show support for music education. Please wear concert dress or all black.
The most important message is children must start an instrument early in life; middle school is too late. Personal stories have a big impact, especially from young people. This program has been cut over the years. Students used to start instrumental music in 4th grade, then the program was cut to starting in 5th grade and several years ago the program was cut to a 6th grade start. This year, 91% of ASD 6th graders are taking band and orchestra!
Remember: in order to testify at a School Board meeting, you must sign up with the Superintendent’s Office to testify at the meeting any time before 5:30 p.m., or one hour prior to the start of the meeting, whichever is earlier.
Cutting the sixth grade music program is just the latest of the bad possibilities from a school board that is desperate to find a solution that is least hurtful to the least number of students. If there is no increase in funding, the prospects are bleak. Those of you who read The Mudflats know that we’ve been spending quite a bit of time explaining what is happening to education in Alaska. We’ve told you about the several $$ million in outrageous fees Mayor Dan Sullivan has tacked on to the Anchorage School District and how he refuses to tax to the property tax cap. We’ve shared in several posts about Governor Parnell’s severe underfunding of the Department of Education in the budget currently before the Alaska Legislature. We’ve also described the horrible cuts the Anchorage School District is facing.
It is very, very important for folks to attend the Anchorage School Board Meeting and let their voices be heard. However, that MUST be followed up by contacting Governor Sean Parnell, Mayor Dan Sullivan, the Anchorage Assembly Members and the Alaska State Senators and Legislators. They must be told how important Alaska’s public schools are on a personal level.
I’ll see you on Thursday!
**UPDATE** (NOTE: There is no official action on the table at this time to cut 6th grade band/orchestra programs. The concern of music teachers/parents/musicians across the city comes from the fact that a member of the Anchorage School Board requested information as to the cost of the programs and currently, the Board is trying to figure out what cuts to make. When you testify Thursday, realize the Anchorage School Board is not the villain. Anger and frustration over the budget situation must be directed constructively (in a civilized way) at Governor Sean Parnell, Mayor Dan Sullivan, the Anchorage Assembly Members and the Alaska State Senators and Legislators. They are the ones who hold the purse strings.)