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Rural Schools Push for Music Programs

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ASHLEY SMITH • TIMES-NEWS Jacqueline Hernandez plays the flute during band practice at Valley High School on Wednesday, April 2, 2014 in Hazelton, Idaho.

HAZELTON • The music of a Korean folk song filled the band room at Valley Middle/High School in Hazelton, as music teacher Robbie Hanchey conducted.

Nearly 50 seventh- through 12th graders were crammed into the small classroom, with backpacks and instrument cases covering the floor of the hallway outside.

“Hey, nice job, band,” Hanchey said as rehearsal ended Wednesday. “Way to go.”

Three years after the 600-student district resurrected the school’s music program, Hanchey continues to push for expansion. “This year has been a really good growth for us,” he said.

A pep band performed during the homecoming game and at basketball games, including the girls’ state tournament, for the first time in years.

Rural schools have real challenges in keeping a music program alive, because of tight class scheduling, finances and teaching staff, Hanchey said.

The school has two bands – a beginning ensemble for sixth-graders with nine students and a much larger ensemble with older students.

The combined middle and high school band “forces the younger musicians to step it up,” Hanchey said.

He said he’d love to see a choir, guitar class and band just for the middle school.

Officials aren’t looking to expand the program now, though, because of finances, said Dennis Coulter, superintendent of the Valley School District.

But the response from community members has been wonderful, he said. “It’s something I’d really miss if we didn’t have it.”

It’s too early to tell if the program’s return has led to academic gains, Coulter said.

A score of national studies, however, has shown a definite link between music programs and increased math and reading test scores.

Hanchey said band students learn teamwork, dedication, how to listen and “taking something they’re not good at and cleaning it up.” Those skills translate to other classes.

Rural music teachers have to actively promote their program and recruit students, he said.

Valley Middle School will have 60 sixth-graders next fall, for example, and Hanchey’s goal is to sign up 40 for the band.

He’s planning an event later this spring where he’ll invite students to try instruments and ask questions.

Eighth-grader Jacqueline Hernandez, 14, started playing flute two years ago in Valley’s band. “I just wanted to try it.”

She was inspired to stick with music after a flute specialist visited the school.

Moriah Ivey, 14, said she wanted to join after hearing the band perform. She and Hernandez both want to earn music scholarships to college.

At other rural schools, such as Murtaugh and Bliss, a paraprofessional teaches music to elementary school students. But middle and high school students don’t have a program.

Secondary music programs were eliminated in the late 1990s in Murtaugh. But when a new elementary building opens in 2016, students will have a shared music room.

“Our first step will be to start a choir class for middle school and see if we can grow the program from there,” Superintendent Michele Capps said.

Castleford music teacher Jennifer Schoth teaches all grade levels, including several band ensembles and high school choir. She also teaches drama and speech.

Many have expressed interest in a high school band, she said, but “there’s not enough of me to go around, so to speak.”

In Shoshone, music classes hinge on whether enough students sign up, Superintendent Rob Waite said.

Waite has noted the educational shift to focus on basic subjects and eliminate electives.

“The reality is that music can keep a kid interested in school and can train them to be a lifelong productive member of society,” he said.


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