Making Money or Music?

Underfunded and understaffed – is this the problem art and music classes face even at GS?

Music and art programs seem to be constantly underfunded and understaffed across the country, seemingly always on the brink of being cut entirely. For many schools, that has become a reality, but could GS be a victim?

   “You need to know a lot about music theory and music history [for a music profession] and we don’t have that,” senior Maddy Kaufman said. “That’s why I dropped wanting to be a music teacher because I didn’t know all of it.”

   Currently, there is one band class that is offered only one semester with 15 students enrolled. All other music programs are clubs or extracurricular activities. While GS boasts a marching band and a concert and jazz band, resources are still scarce.

   “Since we only have one director for both the middle school and the high school, we’re really lacking in everything,” Kaufman said.

   Due to this, Kaufman firmly believed she wasn’t prepared for a college music program.

      “I tried to work at it but with school and everything I didn’t have a lot of time,” she said. “If I had more classes I’d probably feel more prepared but because I don’t, I didn’t.”

Art student and senior Natalie Susa focuses on her piece. Photo by: Emma Skidmore

   Students also find that there’s a certain reputation that comes with wanting to go into an art or music field.  

    “A lot of people think – it’s kind of the same as going into art – you’re not really going to find a good job that pays well,” she said. “You either go and become a performer or you can become a teacher but there’s a few different careers you can go into. People don’t realize that so they think [if] you’re going into music, you’re not going to make any money.”

   However, the amount of research that backs the value of music and art classes in schools is staggering. For high schoolers, possibly the most compelling piece of evidence was tested during the 2012 SAT when music students scored 20-30 points above average in math, reading and writing according to the National Association for Music Education.

   “The past three years, I had a different class on my schedule other than concert band so I had to go into guidance and say, ‘No, I want this one,’” Kaufman said. “Up until last year I was like, ‘This is my career choice, I need this class.’ They had me in a foods class and I don’t need foods, I had concert band on my schedule and they’re like, ‘Okay, but are you really going to need concert band?’”

   Kaufman believes one way to help the program is to improve it at the middle school level.

“If we had more classes and support in the middle school, then we’d have a lot more people in the high school doing music programs and then we would be able to have more classes,” she said. “I think we have a total of 15 people in the concert band class.”

   The amount of staff and funding available also poses an issue, and this isn’t an issue exclusive to band classes.

   “We need more staff, we need more funding, we’re really lacking in quite a few parts of it and we’re like no, this needs to change,” she said.

   Despite this, the heart of the program – the students – are what really shine.

   “I think that the students that we have in the program are really enthusiastic about playing music, learning music and performing music,” band director Mrs. Jaime West said.

   Although the program faces some obstacles, West believes the program is far too important to cut entirely.

   “I think that music is too important to our community to ever let that happen,” she said. “There are enough students here that really love music and do a great job with music and represent the community well enough that I don’t think that would ever happen. It would not be a smart thing to happen.”

   While it might not be happening at GS, it’s frightening to see just how many schools are affected across the country each year. According to Children’s Music Workshop, 1.3 million elementary students are denied access to music classes.

   “There’s been so much [research], what an important part of everyone’s life of music is,” she said. “It’s everywhere.You can’t go into an elevator or a mall without hearing music.”

   Though the classes at GS are safe, counselor Mrs. Deborah Rietski agreed that a lack of money and resources was a constraint across the board and not only in art and music programs.

   “I would say they [the art and music classes] are always evolving and we have added a lot of art classes,” Rietski said. “We’ve added the AP art portfolio class. We tried to offer an art history class but didn’t get a lot of interest in it. We’re trying to expand music in terms of club activities like guitar club. If we can’t get a class per se added to the schedule, we’re trying to offer more activities for participation in those two areas.”

   Furthermore, the scheduling process is limited due to single classes and electives versus requirements

   “Just the logistics of getting all of the classes in open and available spots is difficult,” she said. “Electives are kind of pigeon-holed in to places where other classes maybe aren’t, and you have to spread the core classes.”

   This means that students might end up in electives that weren’t necessarily their first choice.

   “I think some kids who may not feel they have talents in music or that they’re creative in art, they might see those as just exploratory,” she said. “I wouldn’t call them blow-off classes, but exploratory classes so they can get a little bit of exposure.”

  The counselors look each year to add classes they feel will both benefit and engage students.

   “We’ve talked about trying to add, with student interest, some more performance-based or art and music based classes,” Rietski said.

   They also communicate with the teachers in order to revisit things that may need changed in upcoming years.

   “We’ve asked teachers in that department for revisions or changes for next school year,” she said. “We didn’t get any new ideas this year [and] we have added things the past two years. So I think for the time being we just want to try to grow the classes that we’re offering right now.”

“Your education is your responsibility,”

— Mrs. Audia

   Students in these programs can see first-hand the changes they would want to be made and similar to music, some feel it’s been made difficult for them to take art classes.

   “I’m in the gifted program, so I always get told I should be taking more math and science classes but I want to be an art teacher so I don’t need a lot of math and science classes,” senior Jessica Aul said. “I’ve doubled up almost every single year that I’ve been in high school so it doesn’t really make sense for me to take extra math classes and science classes on top of that.”

   Aul also feels that the art classes are sometimes treated as simply filler classes.

   “They just get thrown in to painting or drawing or something, and the kids that actually want to go into the art classes are basically told that they just can’t,” she said.

   She has also seen the lack of resources in the art room.

   “There’s about 30 kids in my painting class and we have barely enough bottles of paint to go around for like, 15 students,” she explained. “We run out of stuff so often and there will be times when we just don’t have stuff that you actually need. I think last year in one of the painting classes they literally used paint substitute, which is like plaster mixed with water, because they didn’t have any white paint.”

   She also feels that by doing art at a high school level, she is somewhat limited in the kind of art she can create and explore.

   “AP art has definitely helped me feel better about doing my own kinds of artwork,” she said. “But I feel like I haven’t been exposed to a lot of art because we’re basically told to almost censor ourselves to make our own artwork. I made a piece that was kind of political that was about gun violence and I was told I could not hang it in the school. Then, all of these school shootings happened and they were like, ‘You can hang that now.’ You have to wait until something bad happens to be able to talk about what it is but I feel like it’s more important beforehand.”

   Aul, a former band student herself, recognizes the value of both art and music.

   “Everyone thinks that no art goes in to art or in to music,” she said. “[Playing music] you have to learn how to memorize everything, you have to learn how to remember it on the spot. With art, you learn all about the art history and you learn all these techniques that you put in to all of your pieces.”

   Despite some limitations, art teacher Mrs. Kelley Audia feels good about the current state of the art program.

Senior Sydney Hirst and junior Megan Shissler perform during the Christmas band concert. Photo by: Alex Podolinski

   “I think we have a lot of diverse classes that we offer between only having two members of our staff who are technically the visual arts department,” Audia said. “Obviously we’ve been cut because we used to have three teachers.”

   She doesn’t see a lack of student interest either.

   “We ended up with, I think, 27 [students],” she said. “We have a couple kids who sit over at the counter but then I had a couple drop the painting class because they had to take other courses like maths or sciences that are just required. It happens. Unfortunately we’re an elective. I think that’s unfortunate for kids because they enjoy our classes so much and they look forward to those classes. It’s a shame they’re kind of stuck taking the classes maybe they don’t get excited about and spending all that time, that 85 minutes, in a class that isn’t really their interest.”

   She has also heard of students express difficulty about getting art classes on their schedule.

  “I have quite a few students who are in the gifted program and are very serious artists,” she said. “They’re current seniors and they’ve expressed this need to kind of fight in order to get visual arts on their schedule. That’s something I’m aware of and I tell all students, you know, your education is your responsibility.”

   However, Audia is confident that the community can see the value of art and does not fear it being cut.

   “I think what’s really important as an art teacher is to continue to do things that make us visible,” she said. “It’s really easy to settle into your job and kind of do things the easy way. By sponsoring National Art Honors Society, by doing extra outside of school things that we do like having the art exhibit that we have in January, all those things just build us up so we do get recognized. Just like the chorus concert is a staple, our art show is a staple now and it has been for 11 years.”

   Audia has experienced how tough the financial limitations can be on the class.

   “The budget is always tricky and I feel like maybe this is my fault than maybe anyone else’s fault but we order in February and I find it so difficult to make a prediction as to what my spring semester is going to look like,” she said. “I’m running out of paint nearly every year and I’m doing it again this year – I’m going to be really low on white paint. We always try to keep a little extra in our budget so we can make those reorders, but this year we really don’t have it. That’s something that’s a problem and something that needs to be improved upon.”

   Audia remembers how art personally affected her as a student and why it is so valuable.

   “It’s super important to be exposed to culture and music and these are the things that get people out of bed in the morning and get kids to come to school,” she said. “They’re valid and they are valuable and I think kids feel appreciated. When I think of when I was a teenager, music was everything to me and art was everything to me. If I didn’t have those art classes, I wouldn’t have wanted to come to school.

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