Year-long music classes for next year
February 19, 2008
District administrators and staff are hopeful they’ve come up with a solution to the declining enrollment and quality of Ecker Hill International Middle School’s performing arts programs.
Students entering sixth grade at Ecker Hill for the 2008-2009 school year will now have the option of taking band, orchestra, choir or drama for a full year, instead of a single semester. Allowing them to "just keep on rocking," according to Ecker Hill Principal Greg Proffit.
Students will pair their performing art of choice with a second-language selection of either Spanish, French or Mandarin Chinese. These classes will then be split in a 95-minute block period, which they will have every other day for the entire year.
Proffit said the choice to pair second-language classes with a performing arts classes had to do with the instructional structure of those subjects and their ability to be taught in a shorter time period than physical education or visual arts.
This change to the performing arts schedule was the result of a compromise between the Park City Board of Education and the instrumental music committee formed in fall 2007 to investigate the role of music in the fifth- and sixth-grade curriculum.
"It’s long overdue," said Jeremy Ranch Elementary School Principal and committee member Michele Wallace. "Kids need it. For us to try to limit instruction to just basic-core areas without any of the arts is not a good idea. We need adequate exposure and instruction to all areas."
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The committee was created in response to continuing comments and questions from parents and staff about the music program’s one-semester schedule. The schedule was implemented after Park City School District adopted a new curriculum policy on Feb. 5, 2002, which established the sixth-grade music program as one of four semester offerings students could choose to enroll in.
Making music programs semester-long made it more difficult for students to improve, according to Ecker Hill band teacher Aaron Webb. "It’s like taking two steps forward and one step backward," he said.
Webb added that it is hard on parents’ pocketbooks as well. "Now families that are paying for instruments will be getting their money’s worth because they’ll be using them all year long," he said.
The current ‘quick fix’
"There was a disconnect for students from fifth grade to sixth grade," Ecker Hill Principal Greg Proffit said. He explained that fifth graders at all four elementary schools are exposed to year-long instrumental music programs, and then when they arrived in sixth-grade, they can only do it for one semester.
"People kept asking ‘why are we doing it and then dropping it?’" he said.
Whether students choose to take a performing arts class in the first or second semester, they go through an extended period of time with no musical instruction unless they opt for private lessons or coming in for zero period.
Zero period, which is available for jazz band and band from 8 to 8:45 a.m., Monday through Thursday, was created as a quick fix or "patch" according to Proffit. But transportation to the school before regular hours proved to be an obstacle.
Many students have formed car pools, Proffit said. Besides car pooling, students also have access to the Treasure Mountain International Middle School and Park City High School buses to bring them to Treasure Mountain so that they can then ride a second school bus at 7:30 to get them to Ecker Hill by 8 a.m.
Of the 30 sixth-grade students enrolled in the second-semester band class, 17 participated in zero hour in the first semester. For sixth-grade orchestra, 19 of the 26 students participated in first-semester zero hour in preparation for their second semester class. Proffit said that with the new year-long performing arts schedule, the school will no longer be hosting zero-hour classes.
After exploring several options, the instrumental music committee reported their recommendations to the Park City Board of Education in the Dec. 4, 2007, meeting. Their solution was to extend Ecker Hill’s seven-period curriculum to eight-periods, allowing for year-long performing arts and physical education instruction and aligning Ecker Hill’s schedule with the eight-period curriculum at Treasure Mountain and the high school.
This solution, however, had a significant financial impact estimated at an annual cost of $250,000 to $300,000, which would cover the hiring of four to five licensed teachers to teach 28 to 30 additional classes.
"I want to let the committee know that I appreciate what the committee has done, but I am worried about the costs," Superintendent Ray Timothy said after the committee’s presentation in December.
There was also concern from board members as to whether sixth and seventh graders had the attention span for an eight-period day, and also whether teachers would be able to adjust their instructional practices to fit that schedule.
Proffit tried to ease their concerns about the instructional changes that would have to be made. "Our teachers are bending over backwards to make the seven-period day look like an eight-period day. They want the eight-period block," he assured the board.
The board was not convinced. They suggested looking into other, less expensive options for providing year-long music programs.
‘Make it work with what we have’
This was not the first time Ecker Hill administrators have approached the school board about an eight-period curriculum. But, according to Proffit, they have not been able to provide enough "cause-and-effect evidence," to prove the district would be getting enough bang for its buck.
"We just had to make it work with what we have," Proffit continued. He hopes that the option they chose will work best for the students and teachers.
Webb hopes so too.
"Our No. 1 goal is to provide a good experience for the kids," he said. "We do that by offering the best quality instruction that we can, the highest quality music we can afford to purchase, and giving students as many chances to perform in public and share the gift of music with the community."
Webb added that while he is overall very excited to see the sixth-graders for a full year next year, he is concerned about the additional class load performing arts teachers will have with the new schedule.
"I’m really grateful that we’ll have bodies in the classroom all year long," he said. "And I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to manage all those classes day in and day out."
Proffit said in order for this "scheduling trick" to succeed, only a certain number of students can be enrolled in the program. And he’s not sure what that number will be until all the students are registered for the 2008-2009 school year.
Based on this year’s numbers, Webb said performing arts teachers could be teaching around five to seven classes a day. For him, the eight-period day would have been ideal so that teachers aren’t "burned out and dragging when they’re trying to manage a classroom."
But, he said he is pleased with the option the school chose. "I’m excited that we are headed in the right direction with the scheduling beginning to align with the musical program’s goals," he said. "We want to do what’s best for the students’ musical growth.
Webb’s goal for his students is to not only prepare them for a national-level performance, but also help them develop a love of music that will last the rest of their lives.
He hopes with the year-long schedule they will go from "putting on good concerts to putting on great concerts." This, he says, should also help keep kids enrolled in the program because they will take so much pride in what they’re accomplishing.
Committee member and high school band teacher Chris Taylor said that the pride and interest developed at the sixth-grade level should help retention at the high school as well.
In response to the scheduling changes, Wallace said that the fifth-grade band teachers, Dennis Harrington and Derek Spitzer, are already working on an honors band component for fifth-grade, as well as talking up the new sixth-grade program with current fifth-graders.
Proffit said representatives from Ecker Hill will be attending assemblies at the elementary schools on March 24 and 25 handing out registration forms for next year. Students will have to turn in completed forms to their elementary schools by March 28.
He is keeping his fingers crossed that the new schedule will match up with the number of students participating. "We are going to have to wait and see how many kids sign up until we’ll know if this is going to work," he said.
Another new option for next year’s sixth graders
Ecker Hill adds Mandarin Chinese to its second-language options
Starting next year, sixth-graders at Ecker Hill International Middle School can take Mandarin Chinese for their second language. The district will be working with the Visiting Guest Teacher Program, which helps bring certified teachers from China to schools in the U.S.
According to program regulations, the visiting teacher must hold a degree from a university in China, be certified to teach a foreign language and be proficient in English. These teachers are pre-selected by the Chinese Ministry of Education, as well as interviewed and selected by the United States Office of Education.
In the Park City Board of Education meeting on Feb. 12, school board and district administrators relayed their hope that the Visiting Guest Teacher Program will help expand sixth graders’ language options, as well as reinforce the goals and objectives of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years’ Program at Ecker Hill and Treasure Mountain International middle schools.