Reposted with permission from the May 12, 2014, Janesville Gazette.
By Catherine W. Idzerda
May 12, 2014
DELAVAN—It’s a school district that’s suffused with music.
Beethoven permeates the second floor of a rural elementary school.
Jazz syncopates and bends in the hallways of the high school.
Voices intone, modulate and oscillate around the edges of doorways, through their glass panes and into the corridors in all of the district’s five buildings.
In April, the Delavan-Darien School District was recognized as on of the best communities in for music education by the National Association of Music Merchants, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the “pleasures and benefits of making music.”
More than 2,000 U.S. schools and school districts were considered for the award. Delavan-Darien was one of 376 schools nationwide and one of 13 districts in Wisconsin to receive the award.
ACCENTUATO: ACCENTED, EMPHASIZED
To qualify for the award, schools submit information about their programs. The National Association of Music Merchants Foundation along with the University of Kansas Institute for Educational Research and Public Service review all the applications.
A number of factors are considered, including the number and variety of programs and classes, the qualifications of teachers, access to instruments and programs, and the support the program receives from the district, said Lora Bodmer, spokesperson for the foundation.
Evaluators are looking for “comprehensive music education,” Bodmer said.
They look at how many students participate in voluntary performance classes such as band or orchestra. They count the number of teachers committed to the music program and if all are certified.
At Delavan-Darien, general music classes start in kindergarten and go through Advanced Placement music theory, said Mike Heine, coordinator of school community relationships.
It’s also one of only two districts in Walworth County with a string orchestra. The district offers string instruction starting in fourth grade, something that’s fallen by the wayside in larger districts.
In addition, the district is home to an eighth-grade jazz band and three orchestras at the middle school level. Wind ensembles, concert bands, jazz bands, string orchestra and string choirs and a variety of other instrumental choices are offered at the high school. High school level choirs include the Lydian choir, a cappella choir, treble choir and chamber choir.
Music technology and African drumming are offered as courses, and the district has three musical theater events each year.
TUTTI: ALL TOGETHER
So what makes the Delavan-Darien musical programs rise above others?
Jennifer Bayerl, high school orchestra director, said one of the reasons the program works is the relationship between the music staff and the classroom teachers.
“We just have a really open relationship with the teachers,” Bayerl said. “We communicate. We share information. There’s a mutual respect there.”
Bayerl said teachers understand that the learning done in music classes supports other academics.
Research shows a correlation between participation in music education and student achievement overall, according to Kansas University researcher and professor Christopher Johnson.
Johnson looked at the link between academic achievement and the quality of the music program. His research considered schools from in a variety of demographic groups and discovered that even schools with “lower quality” music programs consistently scored better on state test scores.
Bayerl said the Delavan-Darien program also excels because the music teachers get along with each other.
“We don’t fight over the kids to get them into our groups,” Bayerl said.
CADENZA: SOLOS VOICES IN THE MIDST OF A PIECE
What do the district’s students think about the musical offerings?
For most, their musical experience is intimately tied to their affection for their teachers.
Memories from musicals, classes they took when they “were little,” a concert or recital survived despite nervousness—almost all those stories involved their teachers.
Simeon Poleger, 17, a junior, started playing violin in fourth grade with teacher Tom May.
He remembers how excited May was about music and how that translated to a pack of unruly fourth graders.
“I remember before I got my instrument, I was so excited,” Poleger said. “Every day, us kids would go up to Mr. May and say, ‘Mr. May, Mr. May, are our instruments here yet?’”
“I really like playing,” Poleger said.
“Because I had Miss Bayerl in middle school, and I have her now,” Poleger said. “It’s nice to still have her as a teacher because I really like her.”
Eliah Nelson–a first-team, all-conference defense lineman–started playing double bass in fourth grade.
“When you pick an instrument, Mr. May just put them all out and lets you play with them,” Nelson said. “I chose the cello, but then I realized this was bigger and asked Mr. May if I could change.”
“I enjoy playing music, but it’s not like the center of my focus,” Nelson said.
Why does he play?
“It’s a fun environment, I really look forward to it,” Nelson said. “The music teachers in the district are great. They know when to let things be fun, and they know when to get strict and stay focused.”
Other local schools that won a best communities award include the Whitewater School District, School District of Fort Atkinson and the Kettle Moraine School District. Randall Consolidated School in Burlington won a Support Music merit award from the organization.