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Column: State of the Arts in District 518

District 518

WORTHINGTON -- Last week the music faculty of Worthington Public Schools presented the "State of the Arts in ISD 518" to elected school board members who represent the constituency of our city concerning public school education. The presentation offered a glimpse of not only what happens within the school day of our busy music classrooms, but what goes on "behind the scenes" as well with teacher work load, preparation and interaction among colleagues, staff and students. The "State of the Arts" presentation culminated a two-year endeavor of curriculum review, rewrite and distribution within our three levels of education here in Worthington -- Prairie Elementary (K-5), Worthington Middle School (6-8) and WHS (9-12).

Partnering with the Perpich Arts Center, a state-sponsored leader in the arts, the Minnesota academic standards in the arts were achieved and realized. By working side-by-side with Perpich Center representatives while defining what it is we do in the classroom, we discovered that we were meeting and exceeding both state and national standards. The result has been the foundations of creating, responding and performing to achieve artistic literacy within our classrooms and beyond. The bar has been raised in ISD 518 and families are taking notice, thus open enrolling their students to Worthington.

Advocacy for the arts has always been an ongoing mission and now, with a recent Comprehensive Arts Planning Program (CAPP) grant from the State of Minnesota, Worthington is positioned to elevate involvement and awareness of what the arts can do within our city and schools for students of all cultural backgrounds and socio-economic status. The benefits of Arts Education can be realized by ALL students allowing for successes in school, society and life. "Pride Through Partnerships," both locally and on the state level, has opened the doors of opportunity for our music students here in Worthington. Student musicians participate in Minnesota All-State, regional instrumental and choral honor groups and locally sponsored community events such as ALBS, YMCA, Veteran's Day programs, King Turkey Day, United Way and many, many more. "Community Connections" are important and allow students (and adults) to see what is happening within the life of our schools both academically and socially. Venues within our district to display the talents of our music students vary, according to size of program and anticipated audience attendance. Evening concerts are primarily held in the WHS Gymnasium and Memorial Auditorium, and day programs at Prairie Elementary. Attendance is growing for music programs, and that is a reflection of the growth of ISD 518 as a whole.

So, where are we headed with Music Education here in ISD 518? Obviously, with what is happening in the life of our schools, the answer is upward and onward! One "constant" with the music staff in Worthington is that we are learning from the past, working in the present and concerned for the future.

Past traditions and levels of excellence have allowed us to push ahead and strive for even greater outcomes in our general music classrooms, performance opportunities and community connections. Technology continues to offer areas of learning that coincide with the way we live day-to-day. Music education can be brought "home" from the classroom with the use of computer software, thus enhancing the way kids practice their instruments or even approach music as a whole. Computer programs like Finale and other compositional tools allow even the novice of music learners the opportunity to succeed and get immediate feedback, just like Smart Music does with the vocal or instrumental student. The itouch offers applications in the general music classroom that gets students connected faster within the music curriculum. It is important to note that technology within the classroom is a tool to reinforce what is already being taught by instructors and not a replacement.

The future looks bright for ISD 518 Music, provided funding and support stay on course and in pace with the growth currently taking place within school boundaries. Families outside of the district are taking a closer look more than ever at what Worthington has to offer and, in recent years, we have seen the arts play an important role as families choose to open enroll their kids. Core classes here in Worthington, coupled with a very diverse and cutting edge arts curriculum, provide the perfect combination for success at all levels and for all students. The time is now to address future needs to meet the growth of the district. Currently, our orchestra program has gone from 90 students to 153 across the district, and our general music classes at the elementary level have left music teachers there scrambling for time to instruct private instrumental lessons, resulting in a 48 percent loss of lesson time. Doing more with less is not the answer. Hiring a 1.0 FTE music teacher at Prairie Elementary would allow for general music and orchestra to continue to flourish and not be curtailed.

Forward thinking is on the horizon as ISD 518 moves Grade 5 to WMS and frees up much needed space at PES due to continued growth in the younger grades. Just like walls in a building, music teachers' workloads and classroom sizes need to be aligned accordingly. Growth of the WMS Band program has also cut into lesson time due to needs of extra general music teaching time. Addressing these needs now, while the district is being realigned, is the smartest solution and most proactive way to meet the needs of all students. Our music faculty work very hard collaboratively to offer opportunities within ISD 518 and have been rewarded at the local, regional and state level. Two ISD 518 teacher-of-the-year recipients have come from within the ranks, many have master's degrees in their respective fields of music expertise, several serve on state and professional boards, and all meet monthly to continue to find ways to make ISD 518 an even better place for students and music educators alike.

Thank you, current Worthington school families and also those that have gone on to achieve great endeavors, as ISD 518 helped launch careers and avocations in the music field and beyond. Thank you school board members for your continued support and critical votes that allow for music education to move forward as together we create a common bond of excellence for our students. Let us continue the vision of creating the arts for all.

The music faculty in District 518 consists of: Prairie Elementary - Jeanette Jenson, Jeanne Mammen, Linda Van Westen and Melanie Loy (also WMS and WHS); Middle School - Mike Andersen, Cindy Anderson; High School - Kerry Johnson, Jon Loy.

Jon Loy is the band director at Worthington High School.