COLUMBIA — A solution has been reached that is intended to calm worries about changes in scheduling at Smithton Middle school and their possible erosion of the school’s fine arts program.
About a month ago, the Columbia Public School District decided to add more time for core classes into the schedules of its three middle schools. Sally Beth Lyon, chief academic officer, said students were spending about 30 minutes in each of their core classes per day and this was not enough time to learn these important subjects.
“Imagine trying to do a science lab in only 35 minutes,” Lyon said. “We just needed more time for these subjects.”
At Gentry and Lange Middle schools, this change did not pose a problem. But at Smithton, the change would not allow children to take both choir and band. Instead, choir would be considered an elective. That meant if a student wanted to take choir, they would need to drop one of the other electives they had already chosen for their schedule in the fall. Other electives include a foreign language, art, computers, drama, family and consumer science, and industrial technology.
An e-mail about the change in scheduling from concerned parents Ellen Hosmer and Andrew Quint began circulating, emphasizing the importance of fine arts at Smithton.
“Playing in the band and singing in the choir is more than just about learning music,” they wrote. “They do learn about music, and they are exposed to a tremendous variety of music from many cultures. The music program is really the only in-depth hands-on multicultural program they can participate in at this point in their education.
“Being in band and choir is also about working together as a team, concentration, learning good practice habits, good behavior and about developing the self-confidence to perform in front of people,” the e-mail continued. “Kids who do this have more poise and self-confidence, they interact with adults in a more mature way and they generally do better academically and socially than kids who do not participate in a music program.”
Hosmer and Quint’s son, Dylan Hosmer-Quint, will be a seventh-grader at Smithton in the fall and was directly affected by the change. He is active in both band and choir and did not want to choose between the two. When he was called into the office and asked to do so, Dylan said, “I was angry, but I was also curious about why they were making changes. I wanted to stop it.”
Dylan then made a PowerPoint presentation and showed it to Lyon with two of his friends. “I showed her the benefits of music in schools,” Dylan said, “and I gave her some quotes from my friends who were also upset.”
Ellen Hosmer said, Lyon “was very approachable and helpful.”
Included in the e-mail from Hosmer and Quint were notes from music teacher Melissa Straw about a meeting she had with Lyon and Assistant Superintendent Wanda Brown about the scheduling change and its effect on the Smithton arts program.
“Columbia Public Schools is strong in many ways,” Straw wrote. “One of those strengths lies in decision-making. Decisions are data-driven and collaborative. This transition has been neither. I respectfully request that this decision be overturned for the coming school year. I volunteer to spend time analyzing the situation and developing a more workable solution.”
During a meeting on Thursday, Lyon and Smithton principal Craig Martin, along with Straw, came up with what appears to be a solution: Choir will be moved to a different time so that it is not an elective. That way, it doesn’t affect the extra time needed for core classes, allowing students to be able to take both choir and band as before.
“At the meeting there was a fresh idea, then we ironed it out and said ‘Yeah, we can make that work,’” Lyon said, later adding the district believes fine arts are important to a liberal arts education.
Ellen Hosmer is satisfied with the decision. “The fine arts program is the reason my kids want to get back up in the morning,” she said. “Before, I don’t think the importance of this program was understood.”