Music at Tempe's Connolly Middle School so much more than an elective - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Music at Tempe's Connolly Middle School so much more than an elective

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Posted: Monday, October 7, 2013 3:08 pm | Updated: 3:11 pm, Mon Oct 7, 2013.

Music can be a way for someone to express him or her self or perhaps a stress reliever; for Tempe’s Connolly Middle School, music is the program that sets the Tempe school’s students apart.

Connolly Middle School’s advanced music program includes six band classes, six choir classes, six orchestra classes, two music technology classes and one full symphony orchestra.

Dennis Smith and Phillip Lemar instruct 233 band students daily. Priscilla Benitez teaches 228 orchestra students per day and Carmel Richards, choir instructor, sees 138 students on a daily basis. Together, they make up one of the middle school’s pride and joy -- the music program.

Principal Kathryn Mullery explained that during the recession, the school district repurposed some of the local schools and the students and staff from McKemy Middle School had to look elsewhere for schooling.

“Our music numbers almost doubled,” she said.

Mullery said that even though the merge is a contributor to the program at CMS, the support for musical education from the entire administrative staff is enormous and is another reason the program is so successful.

“Between the music and how well we are doing educationally, it creates a wonderful experience for talented middle school students.”

Monica Allread, public information coordinator for Connolly Middle School, said it is really important to the staff that the students are well rounded.

“They can do the highest level of work in core classes but also have an opportunity to learn other things like music.”

The students are expected to practice at home, behave well in class and set goals with their music teachers. Allread explained that another reason as to why the music program does so well is because of the expectations the teachers have for the children.

“They expect the kids to really raise the bar and they do,” she said, “This is a very important life skill that they are learning.”

Smith had taught at McKemy Middle School before going to team-teach with Lemar at Connolly Middle School. They both knew what they wanted for the program and Smith said they “mentally and physically joined forces” and the students saw right away that “they were a united front.”

The band students are placed into classes based on work ethic, skill and attitude. The teachers tell the students on the first day of school, “Your audition for next year starts today.”

“Connolly’s Symphonic Band continues to be recognized by the Arizona Band and Orchestra Directors Association for ‘representing the finest in music education in Arizona,’” Mullery said.

In addition, the symphonic band helped the school become one of just two middle or high schools to be selected through audition tapes to perform for all of Arizona’s music educators at the Arizona Music Educators Conference in February of 2013.

The program at Connolly is becoming more and more popular each year; Allread said that some families have even chosen to enroll their child at CMS because of the music program.

School leaders tout CMS’ great relationship with McClintock High School as well; McClintock’s marching band won a state championship last year.

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