Evangeline De Leon, Katharine Bouchard, Avrie Milford and Dylan Witter were the first group of students to address the board about the state of their instruments.
The second group of students to address the board included David Anderson, Ara Tokatlian, Noah Lamperts and Vala Valis Miller.
(Photos by Mary-Justine Lanyon)
RIM OF THE WORLD UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Students’ voices are heard – district allocates funds for instruments
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
Kari Stebbing, the music director at Rim of the World High School, had reached out to the school district and the community, sharing the program’s lack of usable instruments.
At the Oct. 20 school board meeting – held in the new board room at the Lake Gregory Education Center – parents, community members and band students turned out in force to speak to the importance of the music program.
“Music started with people pounding on rocks, then on drums,” said community member Greg Rice. “Music transforms language, becomes uplifting. Music is the most powerful tool we have.”
He added that music “can intensify learning. Memory is enhanced. Even the unborn child has been shown to react to music. How can you not provide the tools to the instructors and students. You need to look at the instruments and the way music can be used in the schools, Music is so important, you cannot afford to place it aside.”
Parent Ara Tokatlian told the trustees that “to play music you need instruments. I have realized an element our district is missing is a higher quality of music.
“There are Chromebooks, textbooks. What if the computers had missing keys, the textbooks had missing pages, the books were stained or broken. This is something similar.
“At Rim High the instruments are below usable quality. You can’t repair them anymore – they are so broken down. The mechanical parts are not working.”
He went on to say that his son had inherited his instruments “so he is the only student with an exceptional instrument. I beg you to consider buying good quality student instruments.” And, as a professional musician, he offered to make himself available to help in choosing those instruments.
The board of trustees also heard from two groups of students. “Through music,” said Evangeline De Leon, “I have learned respect, love. Through music, students are given the chance to flourish.” Katharine Bouchard added that band is like a family. “If more students could be part of our band family, it would be great.”
Avrie Milford noted she started playing flute on an instrument that was not working well, which makes it hard to learn that instrument. “Band has helped me with my confidence,” Avrie added. “I want other people to have the band experience.”
Dylan Witter told the trustees that, during the pandemic, he turned into a recluse. “Band has brought me back out of my shell. I am able to express myself through music better than I ever could before.”
David Anderson, the drum major of the marching band, told the board that “music saved my life. I had a lot of mental health problems. My saxophone has been broken; I’ve been borrowing a friend’s.”
Ara Toktlian stressed the importance of being able to express himself through an instrument. “I’ve been playing my Dad’s sax for nine years – it’s a professional instrument. It’s unfair that so many people cannot express themselves and their talents using a musical instrument.” One friend, Ara said, has to hold down a key on his sax with a hair tie. “It’s important we have better quality instruments.”
Noah Lamperts agreed with Katharine, saying that band is like a family. “If we don’t have the resources to build that family, some people will be left out. Without band I don’t know where I’d be.”
And Vala Valis Miller told the board she has been in band and choir her whole life. “The school’s instruments are completely ruined. We can’t play them correctly. We are a family and we care for each other. The band,” she added, “helps you mentally. I would be unable to speak to you tonight without the band.”
During their governing board comments, the trustees said they appreciated everyone coming out to speak about the importance of music education.
“We have an agenda item that addresses it,” said Trustee Jordan Zarate. Trustee Bill Mellinger added he is proud of the music students. “How did we get to this place where we have so many instruments in ill repair? That’s troubling to see.”
Trustee Dana Ridland recalled her children going through the music program. “They loved it. Music provided them a community, a sanctuary. There were teamwork components music provided.”
Ridland added that the problems with the instruments didn’t happen overnight and can’t be fixed overnight “but it is a priority. The superintendent sees the value of music. It’s more than just learning how to play an instrument. Being a musician enriches our students’ lives. But we have to balance it with our other priorities. We have hard decisions to make. We hear you.”
Trustee Cindy Gardner thanked the students for speaking so eloquently and she thanked Stebbing “for bring this to our attention. Funding is a constant issue for the district in trying to manage all the pressing needs. We need to advocate for small districts at the federal and state issue.
“I appreciate the students,” Gardner said. “Telling your story from your heart is the first step of advocacy.”
“As a high school student,” President Natalie Lindemann told the students, “I never would have had the courage to get p and speak. I applaud you, your parents and your teachers. Your voice matters so much.”
When Chief Business Official Jenny Haberlin reviewed the funds available to the district through COVID relief funds, Mellinger called special attention to one line item: “Band/music repairs/replace – $150,000.”
And when that item came up for a vote, it was approved unanimously by the board.
“Relief is on the way!” Stebbing said in an email the following morning. “I have wonderful news! The school board approved a new allocation of $150,000 to the Rim music programs! We will finally be able to buy new band instruments for all of the schools.
“I am so very thankful to each member of the school board and the superintendent for their thoughtful dialogue on this important issue,” Stebbing wrote. “It truly showed their interest and support for keeping music education thriving in our district. It is my intention to show them my gratitude in every way that I can, as our students will now have help and relief from a difficult situation.
“We have been working hard for four years to bring this program back to its feet and to establish a strong music education program across the district,” Stebbing told The Alpine Mountaineer. “To finally have this acceptance of our integrity, value and determination to succeed is truly a wonderful gift.
“I am exceedingly proud of my students for standing up for what they believe in and for standing up in front of a room full of adults and their school principals to speak their minds! They not only spoke for themselves, but each of them spoke about the younger students, their siblings and their friends. They selflessly want the program to succeed in order to help others, and that is another gift in and of itself.
“We will be working hard over the next several months to get the purchasing rolling, and finding ways to express our gratitude to the school board and to the entire community, as we have received an abundance of support and encouragement!”