Trophies are now proudly on display, thanks to several parents!
The Jazz band program at Sunnyside has expanded to include even more schools than before, and thanks to extreme teacher and parent dedication and perseverance, the students are preparing for the Kiwanis festival again this year! Thank goodness Sunnyside managed to save a portable for music and French classes, because it’s now the band room for students from schools all over South Surrey.
Because the band teacher is unavailable to lead sectionals during the school day, more advanced students teach the less experienced students during lunch hours. Luckily, there are more advanced students available for this, since the band has regularly included passionate students in grades other than Grade 7.
Groups of band students meet at 7am and after school for sectionals as well, and I’m thrilled to report that they’re sounding pretty good! There’s a lot of pressure to practice regularly and attend sectionals and rehearsals, and the hours of hard work are paying off.
I’m so thankful to the teachers who spend untold hours preparing for classes and teaching our children. My children benefit enormously from their commitment and dedication. Go Band! Yay!
6 Oct 2017 update on the band program at Sunnyside Elementary
I’m going to dash this off because I keep thinking I need to update my blog. The band program at Sunnyside Elementary has been pared down to fit the band teacher’s new expanded number of schools. I haven’t had time to talk to her yet, so I don’t know how many schools she’s teaching.
There’s a portable on site that’s used for band and French teaching. It doesn’t have room for most of the instruments that Sunnyside used to have, so I don’t know what’s happened with that. Hopefully I’ll find out sometime!
Band practice is twice a week for an hour and a half each, with students coming a half hour early to the school on those days. Mentoring is on one day a week, after school for an hour, where Semiahmoo Secondary students (and advanced Sunnyside players) can help newbies (from various elementary school) learn their instruments.
There’s no Jazz band, and I don’t know whether there will be sectionals or not later in the year. I doubt the band teacher will have the time, but maybe some advanced students can try to run some sectionals. Some people have told me she’s hoping to do Jazz Band later in the year, but I don’t have details yet.
It’s unfortunate that students passionate about band won’t be able to have the intensive learning experience that was available to them in prior years (11+ hours/week). But I’m glad they have space to play, occasionally at least, and my daughter enjoys the short time she gets with the more advanced trumpets who come from Semiahmoo Secondary once a week.
I don’t have a better analogy at the moment for what’s happening to the music program at Sunnyside Elementary than the high-intensity development we see in Grandview Heights. As development clears the forests to make way for townhouses, the air heats up and gets more polluted, and hectares of road runoff infect our fish-bearing streams. At the same time, the music program at Sunnyside Elementary faces greater and greater threats until at last, it gets reduced to a fraction of its former size.
Yesterday, Sunnyside’s concert band and jazz bands, plus some of the upper-level music classes, went on their last performance tour. Yearly they have gone to other schools to showcase what they’ve learned. Dozens of parents transport children and instruments to different schools, and yesterday we were treated to a wide variety of music performed by well-taught elementary students. This has been a yearly tradition at Sunnyside, supported by teachers and administration alike.
Putting together a program like this takes an astonishing amount of preparation and organization, and requires support from the entire school. Teachers of students in the music program have to accommodate long hours of music practice and missed hours, made up for with homework and altered schedules. Administrators undoubtedly have challenges of their own with such a complex program. Last year, Sunnyside Elementary put on a huge musical play/performance that included every student in the school! It required quite a bit of support and time to pull it off.
As the numbers of students at Sunnyside increased, resources available to students decreased. The last two years have seen 5 portables moved on site to support hundreds of new students. When the band teacher told her students she wouldn’t be teaching band next year, I got worried.
I talked to the principal, who confirmed that the music and band programs would have to change drastically to accommodate the numbers of students we have. Worried, I got online and made a Facebook page for the other parents at Sunnyside who support music. This turned out to be crucial, as some Semiahmoo Secondary parents got on there and told me that if I wanted anything done, I had to go to the district.
So to the district I went, and I also started coordinating with the amazing parents at Semiahmoo Secondary. We had letter-writing campaigns, took recordings, and went to meetings (other parents did, since I couldn’t go).
And now the last performance of the jazz band is tonight. Yes, there will be a band next year (standard hours). Yes, there will be music next year (on carts, rolled out to the portables and classrooms). Most people probably won’t even notice the difference.
Just like we forget all too quickly how much forest used to be here.
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 organizedwith 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!)
May 25, 2017 update: We still haven’t found a way to keep the band program. As it stands, there will, of course, be a band program, for Grade 7, twice a week, 50min each. And there will be a music teacher who visits all the K-4 (K-3 Montessori) classrooms. But no-one I’ve heard from is able to tell me how to keep the music we’ve seen for the past decade at Sunnyside. The current band program spends at least 14hrs per week on sectionals for trumpets, saxophones, flutes, drums, clarinets, etc…plus jazz band practices and concert band practices. Early morning, after school, lunch times…it would be such a shame to lose this one-of-a-kind program.
Thank you to all the parents who’ve written the school district! Keep writing, and if you haven’t written, take a minute or two to write in! I still have hope that someone will find a solution. Here’s the contact info you’ll want: https://www.surreyschools.ca/departments/SECT/Trustees/contacttheboard/Pages/default.aspx
Original post: As Sunnyside Elementary in Surrey, BC braces for next year’s influx of students, growing pains are being strongly felt by its award-winning music program. For years, Sunnyside Elementary has won top honours for its stunning band program.
This elementary band program competes with secondary school bands, because it is too advanced for most elementary schools. Secondary students regularly come to Sunnyside to play with the Jazz Band.
But next year, the state-of-the-art, specially-designed band room in the newly built school might be converted to classroom space.
The province needs to supply enough portables like this one
so that the band room can remain where it is. With high demand for portables from schools throughout BC, we don’t know if that will happen. The school might try to put the band program in a portable: a band program this size doesn’t fit.
The current music room has enough xylophones for an entire classroom, stored in a special room at the back during band practice and brought out again for class practice.
It may be that the band program will have to shift to some other school that’s not seeing so much pressure from urbanization. Many students come to Sunnyside knowing the band program is stellar. It’s sad that a school with hundreds more students receives fewer and fewer resources than it did before.
The new Sunnyside Elementary was built for about 420 students in 2014, with beautiful architecture, a large music room, a spacious gymnasium, and large playing fields.
That year, the area around the school was still forested. Surrey and the Province knew that the entire area was slated to be urbanized, with hundreds of townhouses being planned all around the school. They could have built a school for projected numbers, but that’s against policy.
The school now houses over 600 students, with five portables on site.
The portables have no air conditioning, no running water, and no washrooms. There is one playground the school PAC has been able to fund so far. The school runs on a split bell schedule so that half the school is at recess at a time. New teachers struggle to furnish their classrooms, and observant parents donate badly-needed shelving and extra funds to support basic materials for their children.
The school was built to be expanded; the contractors knew it would be required to house many more students. But expanding the building doesn’t seem to be on the Province’s priority list.
Sunnyside Elementary is an example of the problems faced throughout Surrey. Development is outpacing infrastructure, and new residents rarely know the challenges they will face after they buy their new home. Sunnyside Elementary was built beautifully for 400 students; it may well be forced to house over 700. What will happen to programs like the award-winning jazz band? Instead of benefitting from added resources that could be available in an urban setting, the school will suffer from lack of space and funding, even as new residents flood to hundreds of newly-built homes.