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March 22, 2013 · OPINION

Don’t cut middle school music, physical education

By Carina Elgin
The Plains
Our county schools are being driven further and further into mediocrity. The administration has already eliminated the Gifted and Talented program and competitive sports in middle school. I believe the proposed schedule changes for the middle schools will only further dilute the quality of our schools.

I believe the notion of the middle school schedule change is that 13 more minutes a day of math and English will improve test scores on state-mandated tests. However, these minutes will dramatically cut time spent in physical education and in music.

I truly believe 13 more minutes of “academics” will only lead to 13 more minutes of already zoned-out or hyperactive kids. Thirteen more minutes of teachers having to deal with kids with short attention spans. I honestly don’t think anything will be gained by those 13 minutes.

Ask the people “on the front lines,” your invaluable teachers, for their honest opinions. I have been shocked in recent years how much time is lost in the classroom because of disciplinary issues, rudeness and lack of respect.

On the other hand, having PE or electives or music gives their adolescent brains a needed break from one kind of learning and allows them to stretch in other ways. I feel academic learning only benefits from having other activities to break up the monotony of sitting still at a desk for hours on end.

Personally, I cannot say enough good things about my family’s experience with the Marshall Middle School band and the band director, Paul Hicks. My oldest daughter started playing the Trench horn with him, and now, several years later, is co-president of the Princeton University Orchestra. I credit the French horn and Mr. Hicks in many ways for getting Kaki Elgin where she is today.

Obviously, she is a good student, but her middle school music program taught her many valuable lessons in concentration, focus, dedication, teamwork and “sticking with it.” I maintain playing the French horn helped get her into her college of choice. Music, now her invaluable stress reliever, has taken her around the world on concert tours and has given her a valuable creative outlet. Human beings are not just their test scores.

I recently chaperoned a trip with the Marshall Middle School band with my youngest daughter to a regional competition, where MMS received a “superior” rating for the eighth year in a row. I snuck into the “sight reading” session and could not have been more impressed with these young people and their teacher.

From not being able to read music at the beginning of sixth grade to being amazingly accomplished by seventh and eighth grade....”priceless.” I actually didn’t think middle-schoolers could be that focused! Please, come listen to these kids and their accomplishments before destroying what they are working so hard to achieve.

Educating young people is not just about improving county test scores. It is about educating the whole person. Unfortunately, schools have increasingly had to be about discipline, as more parents fail to teach manners and respect at home. I think the “extras:” of band, orchestra, choir, PE, health, etc. are not “extras” but very valuable in teaching self-control, determination and working together.

It is our job to stop the downward spiral of mediocrity in Fauquier County and fight this proposed schedule change. At least ask the teachers of all classes, school administrators, students and parents what they think before making this move.
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Allie · March 26, 2013 at 6:02 pm
If classes are failing the schools need to look at the method of teaching being used. If you use a bad method for more time the results will not be any better. Ineffective instruction does not become good instruction just because you add a few extra minutes to allow it to continue to happen. The music program is succeeding so lets punish it by taking away from it???? This makes no sense at all. I strongly support our schools and our teachers. I do not support taking away from academic programs that so strongly influence and guide our students. I do not support changes like this that make no sense. Provide professional development to teach better teaching methods and strategies to make our kids successful. Just because a method works in one place does not mean it will work here with our kids. Do not punish those programs that are successful.
woodmom · March 26, 2013 at 8:09 am
I am really confused...I sat and listened to school board members, school principals and community leaders extol the contributions that a MUSIC teacher made toward learning; to former students testify that music classes gave them so much and taught them more than just music. Over 250 people shared the same opinion of Addison Lightfoot, long time educator in Fauquier County, proven by their attendance at his recent celebration of life. Now you tell me these same people want to do away with this valuable experience deeming an "extra". Shame on you.
Kellysfordman · March 22, 2013 at 1:58 pm
My two children attended Cedar Lee Middle School and gained many leader-ship skills from that wonderful athletic program and of course the cheering program was part of that discipline. Patrick is now an assitant principal in the Virginia Beach School system and Kelly, a special needs teacher in the Chesterfield County School system. I am, as I know several teachers and administative personnel that were part of their experiences should be and are proud too.
Their education was across the curiculum in the arts, the sciences, the languages, mathematics, social studies, and physical areas of their Human Growth and Development. I, like you Carina agree that when we cut programs we hurt our children and those teachers. And, your referenced discipline, music needs to be identified at the most important developmental years; 12-14 and even earlier if possible.
I support the tax for our schools and my property value went down, and I have no motive for an increase, but support it for teachers. Our teachers who do and have done their job should not be put in the position to move across the northern county lines for jobs that obiviously will be effected by human resource cuts in debated areas if this discipline is cut.
I wasn't a scholarsip winner in athletics, but I learned those lessons that team play provides and carried them with me in my chosen career, hobby and competetive behavior in the academic world. School Board members who are considering these cuts should look at who they are effecting. Any decision to hurt our young and deny any from the opportunities of this great commonwealth is not a good one.
The definition of education in my career has been:
"An education is the sum total of all your experiences, not the ones that you don't get a chance to have." Fauquier County provided all of those experiences to my two children, and I know to yours too Carina. I was glad they had those opportunites to at least explore their interests.
I summarize and add,the educators from Cedar Lee and Fauquier High that taught my two did their job, and did it well. Our county should support their life time effort to continue their passion, in all disciplines.
Sincerely, and with malice to none, I am
James G. Flanagan, Career Science Teacher
and proud father, SumerduckWood
in beautiful Southern Fauquier County
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