A swell of support for Highland Junior High School’s “A hour” classes swayed the Gilbert Unified School District governing board Thursday night to change its mind and not eliminate the early-morning classes as they approved the 2010-11 junior high and high school course description books.
About 200 parents, current and former students, teachers and even a professional violinist who graduated from Arizona State University came out to show their support for music education in the district and tell their stories of how music changed their lives.
Three Highland High School seniors and orchestra students presented board members with a binder filled with 50 personal student statements explaining what music means to them, statistical information on how music helps students, and additional research on the issue.
A Facebook group called “Opposition to the Removal of Highland Junior High School’s A Hour” was started and had more than 400 “friends,” according to students, although the site was no longer available on Friday.
Lauren Sandground, a Highland High senior who has spent eight years in the band program and took the “A hour” at Highland Junior High, said she’s “triumphed and learned” in the music program, and it would be “sorely missed” if it went away.
ASU graduate Taylor Morris, part of the international fiddling group, Barrage, said he found out about the meeting through the Facebook page. Barrage played with Highland High School’s orchestra and the group agreed it was the “most talented program” they had ever worked with.
Morris said he went to school in the Mesa Unified School District and took the “A hour” at Rhodes Junior High School and Dobson High School so he could participate in his music classes.
“Those hours you give students are indispensable,” said Morris, one of many who received a standing ovation. “‘A hour’ is effective and it does help.”
The “A hour” classes were a concern for board members because it wasn’t something offered at all district junior high schools.
Highland Junior High offers two of the 7 a.m. early classes, language arts and seventh-grade honors math, and seventh-graders who take the early class are able to take two electives instead of one. Many of the 58 students who take this early class are seventh-graders and do so to participate in band programs, such as the 21 students in jazz band. Highland Junior High has a requirement that jazz band students also take concert band.
Cutting the “A hour” would have essentially removed seventh-graders from the jazz band, and removed an extra class choice for many students.
Superintendent Dave Allison said the “A hour” classes are not an extra teacher cost to the district.
Board members agreed to not cut the early class, with the caveat that as long as it doesn’t cost the district anything extra, it can stay. A suggestion to add a fee for the “A hour” will be discussed next year to help with any future costs.
“If you’re willing to wake up for a 7 a.m. class, good for you,” said board member Adelaida Severson. “I’m all for it because of the choice (it gives students).”
After the board decision, Shelly Wen, one of the Highland High seniors who helped put together the binder of information, said she thinks the board was swayed by the information and “arguments” they presented.
The students spent the past week, in between finals and college applications, putting the information together.
Many of the parents and students who came out to the meeting were concerned with comments made by board members at the Dec. 8 board meeting, during a lengthy discussion on the course catalogs.
Vassilios Makavos, a Highland High graduate who now is studying music at ASU, said he would not be where he is today without the “fine” Gilbert music teachers he had, including at Highland Junior High.
“I was deathly depressed in high school and music was what saved my life,” Makavos said. “Music needs to stay off that list (of classes to be cut) from this night on.”
Parents and students showed up to say band programs should not be an extracurricular activity, and should remain an academic class.
Nancy Muñoz, who has three children in the district, said music has really changed her children’s lives, and given her special needs son something to focus on.
“When students are excited in school, they will stay in school,” Muñoz said. “It increases their desire to learn when they want to be there.”
At the beginning of the meeting, board president Thad Stump apologized to the board and the superintendent for his comment that band, and several other classes such as yearbook and student council, should become extracurricular activities.
“The positive thing that came out of this is the amazing demonstration of passion,” Stump said. “My plea to you is to focus that energy to help the district as we move forward, focus on the Legislature to refrain from making any extra budget cuts.”
Stump suggested parents join PLAN, or Parent Legislative Action Network, and visit www.theirfutureisnow.org.
Others referred parents to GAME, or Gilbert Advocates for Music Education, a new parent group that started in October, at www.gilbertmusicmatters.com.
The school board also approved cutting a list of more than 20 junior high and high school classes that have had low enrollment over the past couple of years. Board members had pulled out four social studies elective classes to also be removed, although they decided to only cut a military history class after an administration suggestion.
Along with approving the course catalogs, a new fee was added to the high school jazz band. The fee of zero to $50 will depend on field trips and other expenses, said Barb VeNard, assistant superintendent of educational services.
Board members also agreed on a first reading of a new policy on student schedules and course loads that would charge students who take more than seven classes, which includes campus and online classes. Administrators stressed that there is not a huge number of students who take eight classes.