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Academic changes affect performing arts programs

October 13, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

In Mark Valko's sectional percussion class, Clear Spring Middle School students learn how to clap out rhythms and sound out songs.

It's a unique sight, said Robert Hovermale, Washington County Public Schools coordinator of visual and performing arts. In all county middle schools, students must take six academic courses and two arts courses per year, leaving little room to try out different aspects of the performing arts, such as taking band and chorus at the same time. Clear Spring Middle has found a way to work out those options by offering students a rotating schedule, he said.

Performing arts programs have been hurt by the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which places more emphasis on academics, and the four-period day, which narrows students' options, Hovermale said.

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But there still is hope for the future, he said. Clear Spring Middle School is serving as the model performing arts middle school, and between the arts magnet schools at two county elementary schools and the arts emphasis at South Hagerstown High School, the performing arts have a standing presence.

But the four-period day in county high schools has kept some students from taking performing arts courses they would have taken on the older, seven-period schedule.

With four periods each school day, students spend 90 minutes in each class. Students typically take four classes in the fall and four in the spring.

For band or chorus, 90 minutes per period is a nice chunk of time to practice, but when students go to schedule for their next semester, sometimes performing arts are dropped from their day in favor of other academic classes, Hovermale said.

A school with fewer course offerings might keep students from taking performing arts classes in favor of a required course, he said.

At Boonsboro High School, Choral Director Paula Boyd said "students that really love to sing and are able to give the time and commitment - they will sing all year."

She said that sometimes fund raising is low because of the four-period day, but overall her students keep coming back to sing.

Smithsburg High School Band Director Gary Rupert said the school's hybrid block schedule last year, which had students alternating two four-period day schedules per week, posed more problems than a traditional four-period-a-day schedule.

Since some instruments require students to keep their facial muscles fit, Rupert said when snow days hit, he found that students lost their strength.

Rupert said when he worked in Frederick County, Md., which used the four-period schedule, marching bands would be 100 strong in the fall and have a concert band of about 20 in the spring.

Some schools are trying to prevent that type of situation.

At South Hagerstown and North Hagerstown high schools, performing in the marching band is an extracurricular activity, Hovermale said.

Tony Domenico, band director at South Hagerstown High School, said he tries to run his courses like the offerings at a small college.

Students can take Honors Jazz Band before school, take Concert Band first period, Wind Ensemble second period, Advanced Placement Music Theory third period and come back after school to march in the band.

At South High, when students sign up for band, they must stay for both semesters, he said.

Domenico said some of his students, majoring in music, are taking three out of four of their credits in music.

He backs making marching extracurricular because it's more important that students learn how to play their instruments before they go out on the field, he said.

"The real teaching goes on in a sit-down type of ensemble," he said.

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