STONINGTON —- Supporters of music education packed the high school commons at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting to protest a plan that would change and curtail elements of the elementary and middle school music programs next year. The scene was a repeat of a similar protest on June 12 when music supporters criticized a first round of potential changes and cuts to the music program.
The changes would coincide with relocating the fifth grade to the newly renovated and expanded elementary schools and the consolidation of the two middle schools into Mystic Middle School.
In middle school, sixth graders would continue to be required to take chorus or band but the requirement would be dropped in seventh and eighth grades with the new plan. Seventh and eighth graders could opt into encore music offerings.
In elementary school, students would take recorder lessons in third grade, ukulele in fourth grade and percussion in fifth grade. Fifth graders would not have the option of starting an instrument as before but teachers would develop an “instrument showcase” to show students various band instruments, according to the plan.
Making band and chorus optional in seventh and eighth grade and introducing a new music sequence in third, fourth and fifth grades without the option of learning an instrument will eventually destroy the district’s music program, which depends on having instrumental music lessons early, said many of the critics of the plan.
In its Oct. 11 report to the board, the administration said there was a “clear need to improve student growth and achievement in language arts and mathematics at the middle school level,” which meant increasing academic instructional time and decreasing other classes, such as music.
Bobbi Dorrity, an eight-grader at Mystic Middle School, said band and chorus are “necessities in the lives of middle schoolers” and emphasized that music helps with academic success.
“Music is my magic,” she said. I would like to see music mandated for fifth through eighth grade.”
Christian Donovan, a senior at the high school, said he’d been a part of the jazz band for four years and that learning bass guitar changed his attitude toward school.
“I wasn’t accepted into the jazz band in sixth grade so I decided to teach myself the bass guitar because I wanted to do it so much and that was the moment when I took interest in myself. It helped me so much,” he said. “Without the middle school music program, I wouldn’t have had the push to do that and I don’t think i’d be where I am now. If you want to cultivate kids to be the best that they can be there needs to be this push toward music.”
Christina Fullerton, of Mystic, said the music program was the “shining star” of the district and wanted to know why the music education program had “a target on its back.”
She also wanted to know the administration hadn’t included the entire community about the new plan.
“Only elementary parents were contacted about plan,” she said. “Middle school and high school parents were prevented from involvement, there was no community outreach.”
Ray Jones, a parent of two high schoolers and two children who have graduated, said he wanted to all Stonington children to have the same level of education his kids had in elementary and middle school.
“Stonington’s musical excellence will be replaced with mediocrity,” he said. “And who will be held accountable for this decision five to 10 years from now?”
He also said he questioned the logic of increasing instructional time and decreasing music education to mitigate declining test scores.
Melissa Lin Monte, mother of a first grader, sixth grader and sophomore, said studies have shown that music has proven beneficial cognitive effects.
“There is a correlation between higher test scores and music education,” she said.
Harriet Statchen, parent of a seventh grader and two high schoolers, said changing the music program would ruin the district’s “jewel in the crown” that attracted families to Stonington.
“I cannot find single comparable school district that waits until sixth grade for ensemble,” she said. “This music plan is not a music plan at all. It’s written to solve other problems,” she said.