Ongoing Advocacy for Sunnyside’s Award-Winning Band Program

Last night there was a school board meeting, and the Sunnyside Elementary band played for the board of trustees, superintendents, and attendees. It was an opportunity to remind everyone what we stand to lose next year. Interestingly, the most vocal supporters of the band are Semiahmoo Secondary parents and students, who have a longer view of the benefits they’ve seen from having succeeded in the intensive Sunnyside band program. At least one student stood and spoke eloquently about the benefits of music education, and several parents stayed late to speak and ask questions.

Depending on who you talk to, you’ll hear different stories about the status of the well-known award-winning concert and jazz band programs at Sunnyside Elementary in Surrey, BC.  Some people say it’s gone, others say it’s just fine. The school newsletter states that band will continue. But band students are sad that they’re losing their teacher. So what’s happening? Despite the enormous amount of advocacy shown by Sunnyside parents and ex-parents, there’s still a lack of understanding about what Sunnyside is to lose.

While the newsletter statement is technically correct, it makes it sound as if the band can magically play beautiful music with only a small fraction of the rehearsal time the students currently have. Sunnyside is a public school, and the only reason it can support the efforts of budding musicians is because for decades, Sunnyside Elementary has thrown all its support behind the scores of hours of practice every week required. If our band director doesn’t have a home base, how can the trumpets, clarinets, saxophones, trombones, flutes, drummers, and percussionists all get sectional rehearsals in addition to full band practices? Band requirements in Surrey are 2 days each week, for grade 7 students. Even this small amount of band practice was almost cut a few years ago. If Sunnyside is brought to “normal” levels of band practice, it will be unrecognizable.

I think there are two reasons the Secondary students and parents are our best advocates. First, the Semiahmoo Secondary parents and students have seen the benefits of Sunnyside’s music program first-hand. The students are mature and communicate well, having grown up in an excellent education system. They know how much their experience in the elementary years of the Sunnyside concert and jazz band program have helped them in their transition to high school. They also have relied more and more on music to help them as they struggle through teenage years, to deal with the stress that comes with difficult exams and college entrance applications. Many elementary parents and students haven’t seen those benefits of music first-hand yet.

Second, the parents in the Secondary schools have been in the school system a lot longer, and they’ve seen how to get things done. They know that one of the ways to advocate for their children is to actively bring important issues to the attention of numerous people such as the Ministry, MLAs, City Councillors, School Trustees, Superintendents and Principals. I am impressed at the dedication and perseverance of these parents. They gather information, speak with the key players, and they’re great at spreading the word. They help other parents who aren’t as confident writing or speaking find ways to show their support.

One of my friends said that there was a large group of special needs parents at the school board meeting last night, and they were very organized with their questions, and they know what is needed. They are a great example of how to help the school system be successful with a broad array of children. We all have children who need our advocacy, and who will benefit from an education system that challenges and supports them. If you haven’t written in yet, and you want to, don’t be shy, let them know!

(Thank you to Delanne Young for comments and suggestions on this post!)

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