Earlier this fall the Department of Visual and Performing Arts completed its seven-year curriculum review cycle and presented a new Plan of Action to the School Committee. Through this process the department identified several opportunities to strengthen specific programs, making them more effective for students and more efficient to operate. The Grade 3-5 Instrumental Music (Band and Orchestra) program was identified as a high priority for modification.
Many factors –increased enrollment, limited teaching space and instructional time – have put a strain on this program over the past several years. Offering high-quality instrumental music instruction to 600+ students across five schools has become increasingly difficult. As a result, we are seeing more students leave the instrumental music program prematurely than we believe we should. Decades of research in education and neuroscience points to the many intellectual, academic and social-emotional benefits of instrumental music study. By making some hard choices about our instructional model we are confident that we will be able to offer a better instructional experience to students in the Instrumental Music program, promoting more long-term participation this important educational experience.
Beginning in 2017-18, the starting grade for Instrumental Music study will be delayed by one year. Where string instruction (orchestra) has typically begun in Grade 3, it will now begin in Grade 4. Similarly, brass and woodwind instruction (band) will be pushed back from Grade 4, and will now begin in Grade 5 at Chenery Middle School. Students in Grade 3 will continue to receive General Music instruction twice per week. Fourth graders will have the opportunity to begin string instruction, and will also attend two weekly General Music classes.
The Grade 5 Music model will undergo the most extensive change from its existing model. Currently, all Grade 5 students attend General Music TWO (2) times per 6-day cycle. In addition, those who elect to participate in Instrumental Music attend ONE (1) lesson per week while their classmates remain in the classroom. Many parents have pointed out the inequity in this instructional model, and they are not wrong. In our efforts to improve the Instrumental Music model, it was also important that we solve this issue of inequity as well.
Beginning in 2017-18, ALL Grade 5 students will receive music instruction FOUR (4) times per 6-day cycle. Students who elect to enroll in Instrumental Music will receive TWO (2) lessons per cycle, and will participate in TWO (2) ensemble rehearsals – band or orchestra – per cycle. Those students who elect not to enroll in Instrumental Music will attend TWO (2) classroom-based General Music classes per cycle, and will participate in TWO (2) Chorus rehearsals per cycle. This new model drastically improves upon the existing model for Instrumental Music instruction while also providing an equitable educational experience for students who elect not to play an instrument.
We fully expect there to be some disappointment among some students and families who expected to begin studying a string or band instrument next year, only to learn now that they will have to wait another year. Hopefully they will find solace in the vast improvements being made to the instructional model – particularly in Grade 5 – that will lead to much better outcomes and higher levels of achievement for all of our music students. We are confident that, in the big picture of a student’s journey through our music program, these changes should have a tremendously positive impact on their experience.
If you have any questions regarding these changes, please feel free to contact Arto Asadoorian, Director of Visual and Performing Arts (firstname.lastname@example.org).