Boulder Valley's Instrumental Music Classes Threatened

Post date: Oct 24, 2015 6:56:40 PM


Boulder Valley's instrumental music classes threatened, advocates say

Instructors say allowing students to choose one concentration poses threat to instrumental classes

By Amy Bounds

Staff Writer

POSTED: 10/19/2015 06:44:52 PM MDT | UPDATED: 5 DAYS AGO

Henry Westfall, right, and Atharv Jamdagny practice the violin during a fifth-grade instrumental music class at the Bear Creek Elementary School in Boulder

Henry Westfall, right, and Atharv Jamdagny practice the violin during a fifth-grade instrumental music class at the Bear Creek Elementary School in Boulder on Monday. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)

A Boulder Valley task force looking at the ideal school day is considering changes to the fifth-grade instrumental music program — and is hearing opposition from teachers and parents.

The task force, a joint effort of the district and the Boulder Valley Education Association, is looking at how schools use time. Issues the task force is investigating include a later start for the high schools, common collaboration time for teachers, and a standardized school day length for the elementary schools.

The length of the school day currently varies among the elementary schools, district officials say, creating both equity and efficiency issues.

"We don't know that there's a perfect solution, but we do think there's a better solution than where we are now," said Boulder Valley Superintendent Bruce Messinger.

As part of the discussion on a common school-day length, the task force has discussed giving all elementary students at least 25 minutes to eat lunch and 45 minutes for recess.

The other goal is to give students an equal amount of time for music, physical education, and art. Under the current system, elementary students generally have 90 minutes each of music and physical education a week, but just 50 minutes of art.

At fifth grade, most elementary schools provide an additional 80 minutes of instrumental music a week, along with the 90 minutes of general music.

Sandy Ripplinger, assistant superintendent of school leadership, said the group is committed to keeping instrumental music as an option while also ensuring there's enough time for lunch, recess, art and classroom instruction.The task force is considering requiring fifth-graders to choose one music option or the other instead of taking both.

"We want a more balanced day," she said. "It's a series of gives and takes. We want to make sure kids have lots of opportunities."

District officials emphasized that no decisions have made, with ideal school-day recommendations not expected until winter break. The decision also isn't about saving money and no teachers would lose their jobs, they said.

But instrumental music teachers, who shared concerns at a recent school board meeting, say they were told that requiring students to choose will start in the fall 2016.

Their concerns include that they haven't been asked for feedback and that enrollment and quality of the program will drop, both in fifth grade and in instrumental music programs in the middle and high schools.

Mindy Anderson, who directs the orchestra at Fairview high and teaches music at two elementary schools and a middle school, said more feedback from teachers is needed.

"It failed to honor all stakeholders," she said.

General music, where students sing, teaches different skills from instrumental music, but they are equally important, said Beau Bryson, the band director at Boulder High School.

He said instrumental music is important because it gives all students, regardless of background, an opportunity to try an instrument.

"I would hate to see it diminished," he said.

In 2010, Boulder Valley considered dropping either general or instrumental music classes to save money, free up teaching time and make music more equitable with other art programs.

Opposition from parents and teachers convinced the school board to continue having fifth-graders take both, but try some different pilots.

Some schools began requiring students to choose, while others tried models that included offering general music one semester and instrumental the next. One school taught only instrumental music, while offering choir after school.

District officials said they have concluded the only model that seemed to work was giving students a choice between the two.

Lynn Jackson, a teacher at Eldorado K-8, who is co-chair of the school-day committee, said she understands the fears of instrumental music teachers but believes music programs won't suffer if there's a choice.

Students passionate about singing will still take general music, she said, while students passionate about playing will still take instrumental. Teaching students who chose a class because it interests them, instead of a mix of those interested and those not, also has advantages, she said.

"A lot of what we're hearing is about what would be lost, but this could open up opportunities," she said.

Amy Bounds: 303-473-1341, or