Adrienne Cohoon (10) was in second grade when major funding cuts cost Lansing Public Schools their music program. With the help of extracurricular music program Hope Central, she was able to learn the violin. However, her elementary school art, music and gym classes were reduced to once every one or two months.
The impacts of this decision continue to be felt by the district today.
Before the cut, elementary students had music class once or twice a week from district teachers. After the cut, the classes were sparse, supplemented by afterschool programs such as Hope Central, which provides free classes in technical and performing arts and allows students from kindergarten to sixth grade to participate in musicals and other performances, expanding their artistic skills.
These programs can only reach so many kids.
The effects of decreasing music exposure from a young age rippled throughout the district. Despite being able to maintain programs at the middle school and high school levels, participation decreased.
“[High school music classes] suffered a little bit with not having kids that were excited about music because they didn’t have it [in elementary school] and when they get to middle school they are less likely to sign up for choir, band or orchestra just because music wasn’t on their radar,” Justin Valla (Fine Arts) said.
There are reasons for Lansing Public Schools to value a strong music program.
They can be important to a student’s life as well as attract new families to the area. According to the College Board, students who participated in music perform better on standardized tests. However, its upkeep has been difficult for many schools.
Debbie Mikula, former executive director of the Michigan Association of Community Arts Agencies, commented on the issue to the Lansing State Journal.
“Every district in Michigan and across the nation are struggling with this same issue,” Mikula said. “In my entire lifetime, arts education is one of the first things cut.”
Similar cuts have expanded to impact general education classrooms as well. According to the Detroit Free Press, Detroit Public Schools was short 100 teachers in 2014. Detroit saw classroom sizes grow to over 50 students as more and more teachers were laid off. Randi Weingarten, a guest writer for the Detroit Free Press, views the vacancies as a result of uncompetitive salaries stemming from the state cuts to public education that Gov. Snyder pushed at the time.
According to the Meridian Times, Okemos was threatened by similar, while less extensive cuts in 2011. Our music program survived with the assistance of events like the Spaghetti Dinner and community donations.
The Lansing community was unable to provide similar benefits.
Recently, however, motions have been made towards change. The budget for the Lansing district more than doubled between 2013 and 2017, allowing it to hire four new music specialists for the 10 early learning schools, according to the Lansing State Journal. A group of Okemos students wants to encourage this development by providing after school opportunities for elementary kids to learn more about music and maybe try some instruments themselves.
Valla explained what the bond passed in the Okemos District will supply to our music programs and how that differs from what is currently supplied to Lansing students. Inspired, Chloe Long (10) developed a plan to bring a group of Okemos students to a Lansing school and provide extracurricular musical experiences to students who do not have the same backing provided by the Okemos community at their own school.
“I was thinking how unfair it was that I got music classes from literally when I was born until now. It’s had such a great affect on my life and it’s just so not fair that other kids don’t get that opportunity because music has just done so much for me,” Long said. “In general, I’ll be having a really bad day and I’ll have gotten a bad grade on my math test and I’m really upset about it and I’ll think, ‘I get to go to orchestra and I get to see all my friends and we get to play music together and it’s gonna be okay because I get to have music still.’”
There are many hurdles involved such as working within another school system to form a club and get Lansing administration and teachers on board, but Audrey Hirchert-Walton (10) believes it is worth trying.
“I would love to help Chloe. I feel like it would be a cool experience, and I want to support my friends,” Hirchert-Walton said.
Long views early music education as an important and meaningful pursuit.
“If I can make a difference in one kid’s life, it would be so great,” Long said.