UCDSB, parents not singing in harmony on music education
When it comes to music in the Upper Canada District School Board's (UCDSB) elementary schools, trustees and advocates for better music and arts education aren't exactly singing the same tune.
The Mandate for Music group, headed by Brockville and area Music and Performing Arts Hall of Fame members Dr. Denise Bowes and Joy Goodfellow, has expressed concerns to the board over the past several months about the lack of elementary music instruction within the board's schools.
In a recent letter to the Ottawa Citizen, Bowes and Goodfellow stated that music is disappearing from elementary schools.
"Qualified music teachers who retire or move are often not replaced with trained music teachers," they wrote. "A classroom teacher who has never learned to sing or read music would have difficulty teaching Grade 4 harmony in the treble clef as the curriculum expects. However, music is a mandated subject by the ministry and a mark is given on the report card."
They went on to note that a 2009 survey of the arts in the board's elementary schools revealed almost half of school principals had no qualified staff to teach music. The Coalition for Music Education 2010 survey of music in schools showed 58 per cent of schools in the province did not have a qualified music teacher.
Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark has launched a petition to the Ontario legislature asking the Ministry of Education to make music a protected subject in elementary, as French is now.
"This would allow principals to replace qualified music teachers lost to attrition with qualified music teachers," Bowes and Goodfellow explained in their letter.
The two women have also created a Facebook page called Save Music in Our Schools in an attempt to spread their message about why music instruction is so important for young students.
While the board's trustees agree that art and music education is important for children, the board cites declining funding for art and music programs as one of the main reasons why such programming is increasingly absent from schools.
Some trustees also agree with the suggestion that the board to lobby the ministry to make music a protected subject in UCDSB schools.
But director of education David Thomas cautioned that the process of applying for such designation is "complicated" and a "minefield."
Cornwall representative David McDonald questioned, among other things, why the board would consider increasing its emphasis on the arts at a time when it is feeling funding pressures across all disciplines.
He also expressed concerns about pushing students to meet higher standards in the arts at the potential expense of other subjects.
"We have to be careful we aren't pigeonholing students into being arts majors," McDonald said at a recent board meeting.
The board has opted to delay any decision on what further steps it may take to combat the issue until the mandatory review of its arts charter is completed next spring. The arts charter is made up of elementary and secondary teachers from across the UCDSB, with a mandate to promote and support the arts (visual arts, drama and dance.) It provides grants to schools seeking to implement art and/or music programs.
Caroll Carkner, trustee for schools in the Prescott-Russell region, said the arts program in the UCDSB is "alive and well" and schools in the region are providing arts programming despite fiscal challenges.
"It's true that we don't have specialized music or art teachers in every school in the board," she told The Review during an interview Tuesday morning. "It's a question of money. The ministry of education does not provide funding for specialized teachers in music. In a perfect world, we would have the funding to provide those kinds of teachers, but the government just doesn't provide us with the necessary funding."
Despite lack of funding, Carkner said she is "very impressed" with efforts being undertaken by schools in Prescott-Russell to ensure students have access to a wide variety of beneficial and interesting arts programming.
"There is a variety of art classes and programming taking place in our schools," she commented. "The arts charter is there and principals can apply to it and receive funding to bring in people from the community who can teach various art disciplines. It's not perfect, but our schools are offering good quality programming."
Carkner said the arts charter is currently taking an inventory of art programming being offered in the board's 87 schools and once a report is complied, the board will decide how to proceed.
"A review like this takes time," she explained. "It's important to have the information so we know what is going on in our schools. That way if we decide to lobby the province, we can go forward with the information we need in hand."
PCPS sings a different tune
One of the schools that has taken art programs into its own hands is Pleasant Corners Public School (PCPS) in Vankleek Hill.
Principal Roxane McDonell said she did apply to the arts charter one year for funding and received it, but now, the programming being offered at the school is paid for through the school budget and fundraising activities.
"We know the board doesn't have the funding to provide specialized teachers for music and arts," she commented. "Here at PCPS we view art and music as being very important for children and we're doing what we can to bring qualified people into the school to teach the arts. It's something we're committed and dedicated to."
McDonell said a retired teacher comes in to the school once a week to teach music to students from Grade 5 to 8. She said the school purchased second-hand instruments such as trumpets, trombones, saxophones and drums.
She said another teacher from the community comes to the school to teach a variety of disciplines including art, drama and dance.
"We come up with a theme and that theme is carried through all parts of the curriculum," McDonell explained. "For example we did a Canadian myths and legends theme and that carried through the whole curriculum. The whole school focuses on the theme and the music and art classes focus on the theme as well."
Currently, the theme is The 60's and McDonell said the school will host an Arts Night on May 16 to showcase the work students have done to reflect that theme.
"We'll have performances by the school band, as well as individual students performing music and there will be an art gallery set up all over the school," McDonell said. "It's always a fun evening and the students certainly enjoy showing off their hard work."
McDonell said art and music instruction is "very important" for children and often students who are not as academically inclined as others will thrive in an art class.
"It's great for kids to be athletic and to have a focus on that, but not all kids are in to sports," she said. "Not all kids excel in academics either. Art classes really allow those kids to shine and often they do thrive in a more artistic environment. They may not be great at math, but they excel in music or drawing. It's important to give those students a chance to excel."