Educators find space for art among STEM focus

March 11, 2019 GMT

ATTLEBORO, Mass. (AP) — Professional drummer Rick Morin received a phone call a few years ago asking him to share his career experience with an elementary class in Norton. Little did he know it would change his life.

“I gave the kids pieces of plastic and told them to make some noise,” he said.

And noise has been made.

Morin’s “Bucket Boot Camp” has taken off, traveling to classrooms, libraries and after-school programs throughout the Northeast. And today, it has been integrated into much of the curriculum in Massachusetts schools.

Morin, 55, still plays percussion professionally but now finds himself devoting much of his time to The Rhythm Room in North Attleboro, and of course, the public school system.


“It (Bucket Boot Camp) teaches listening skills, teamwork and imagination,” Morin said. “There’s an overall loss of critical thinking in schools.”

The North Attleboro resident believes these skills, coupled with music, are essential for students’ development.

He shares his belief with the National Association for Music Education, which, more than 30 years ago, designated March as National Music in Our Schools Month. The organization says on its website that in addition to raising awareness, the month aims to “remind citizens that school is where all children should have access to music.”

However, with such an emphasis on standardized testing and STEM subjects, is there even room left for music and the arts in today’s schools?

Aaron Bush, band director at Foxboro High School, thinks so.

Bush, 34, took over the accomplished music program at FHS just two years ago, following the retirement of his longtime mentor, Steve Massey.

But Bush has picked up where Massey left off, as the school’s jazz ensemble prepares for its 18th trip to Lincoln Center in New York for the Essentially Ellington competition and festival this May.

The annual event invites the top 15 bands in the country to spend three days immersed in “workshops, jam sessions, rehearsals and performances,” according to its website. Foxboro will be the only Massachusetts representative.

The FHS jazz ensemble is comprised of 20 students in grades 9-12. Bush feels the group — and music as a whole — creates a sense of community within in a school.

“The arts are critical in developing well-rounded, worldly students,” he said.

Bush, of West Roxbury, believes the core subjects to be crucial for students; however, he feels music is a way for students to express themselves creatively and learn about themselves. For these reasons, Bush feels the letter “A″ should be inserted in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) acronym, thereby incorporating the arts and making it STEAM.


The Foxboro community has consistently supported the arts in education, including music, and Bush believes it has contributed to the school system’s overall success.

Foxboro students are introduced to music at the elementary level and given a choice in middle school between band, chorus and orchestra before eventually reaching Bush at the highest level.

Bush teaches music as a course at FHS, where students are graded and assessed as they would be in any other subject.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in music education and saxophone performance at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and eventually his master’s from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee College.

Nancy LeBlanc has three sons in Mansfield music programs, and she is more than impressed. LeBlanc’s oldest, Daniel, is a member of the marching band, percussion ensemble, jazz band and pit orchestra at Mansfield High School.

LeBlanc believes the arts provide “what a classroom simply cannot.”

She said she has witnessed her children gain “perseverance, grit, excellence, leadership, work ethic, and passion” through the programs offered in Mansfield, as she attributes much of this to band directors Laurie Pepicelli and Matthew McGuire at Mansfield’s Qualters Middle School and the high school, respectively.

McGuire became the MHS band director in 2014, and LeBlanc is astonished with what he and Pepicelli have been able to accomplish in just four short years.

“They model the way, inspire a shared vision, and teach our students multiple life lessons about artistry and teamwork,” she said.

Michaela (Mikki) McIntire, an MHS graduate, is studying music at the University of Massachusetts Lowell with the hope of a career in music therapy.

McIntire, 20, has always seen music as her “outlet,” and isn’t sure when it became relegated to nonessential status in many districts.

“Years ago, music was a core structure within the school system,” McIntire said. “Now, it is much more of an elective.”

McIntire’s love for music began in elementary school when she took her first flute lesson.

From there, she grew into an active member of Qualters Middle School’s band and eventually MHS’s.

“Music surrounds us,” she said. “And so it’s sad when schools don’t have strong music programs. Kids need the outlet.”

McIntire’s mother, Mary Beth, has seen the results of this positive outlet on her daughter.

“A band really becomes a family,” she said. “One person is not a band.”

Nathan Sharples, a classmate of McIntire’s at UMass Lowell, agrees.

Sharples, 19, said he still remembers the day his father purchased the video game series “Rock Band.” From there, he found his love for the drums, often playing “without even plugging it in.”

The Attleboro native now also plays the piano and guitar, with the dream of becoming a successful musician. However, he feels there is a stigma associated with music education as he often hears the question, “Where is it headed?”

Sharples was the former band president at Attleboro High School and he believes the diminishing of music in many schools can be greatly attributed to budget crises, similar to Attleboro’s a few years back.

“The less funding comes from the top and is working its way down,” he said.

And there’s reason for his belief.

The Give A Note Foundation, founded in 2011 in partnership with the National Association for Music Education, interviewed music educators and supervisors across the United States in 2016 and surveyed a sample of schools with music education programs in 2017. Among other results, the survey found fundraising to be an important part of being a music educator, especially in urban districts and secondary schools.

Jaime Steinbach has been teaching music for 26 years, 22 of them in Mansfield. And her job is a whole lot different now from when she started.

Like other arts advocates, Steinbach believes it should be STEAM and not STEM, but she actually incorporates many aspects of STEM into her lesson plans; science experiments on sound travel and instrument building and mathematics, for example.

She tells her students, “Music is fractions. Whole notes, half, and quarter.”

Steinbach, 49, has third-, fourth- and fifth graders at Jordan/Jackson Elementary School. She teaches general music and chorus to her students, in addition to directing the fifth-grade annual production. This year, it’s “Seussical the Musical,” to be staged in mid-March.

She focuses much of her classroom learning on hands-on activities and group work. Cooperation skills are something she feels must be taught in today’s classrooms. Steinbech reflected on her time as a student herself, where she struggled with her dyslexia. Music was her reason for “showing up,” she said.

It’s often the case that students who struggle in other areas excel in music, and Sarah McQuarrie, associate professor of music at Bridgewater State University, has seen this first hand.

McQuarrie, 43, has been at Bridgewater for the past 11 years, but before this she taught music to kindergartners for 10 years. She said she vividly remembers a young student who was great at music but struggled with other subjects. Now at Bridgewater, McQuarrie trains undergraduates on the path to becoming music teachers themselves and finds the two positions to be “more similar than you’d think.”

McQuarrie just recently pressed her students with the question, “Where will music education be in 2040?” And she said the assignment has prompted internal reflection of her own.

“It (music education) is subject to change now more than ever,” she said. “We aren’t just focusing on reading music and simply playing anymore. Instead, we are experiencing and understanding music.”

McQuarrie notes that the internet is a large factor in a potential transition as students can now listen to “any type, anywhere.”

Now more than ever, McQuarrie stresses the importance of “inclusion” and “diversity” in terms of teaching, as students will often approach her with new types of music.

“The answer to where it’s headed is simple,” she said. “It’s open-ended.”

Cecil Adderley, chairman of music education at Berklee College of Music in Boston, said the fate of music education falls greatly in the hands of individual communities.

“Funding begins at the local level,” he said, “and many school districts will vary in their offerings.”

Regardless of whether the arts are offered in public schools, charter schools and now even online, Adderley is confident in his work at Berklee as almost all of his graduates are finding immediate employment.

“While it is hard work, most graduate with jobs,” he said.


Online: https://bit.ly/2u1EdNP


Information from: The (Attleboro, Mass.) Sun Chronicle, http://www.thesunchronicle.com