Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Widefield schools get national recognition for music programs

By Carol McGraw Published: May 16, 2013

It's sometimes a bit hard to get a really large audience for the concerts during school assemblies in Widefield School District 3.

That's because most of the kids are performing.

About 6,700 of the district's 9,300 district students are playing, singing, marching or otherwise involved in music programs.

Sproul Junior High's concert Thursday was a good example. More than 85 percent of the 600 kids at the school presented guitar, orchestra, choral and band pieces for an enthusiastic but smaller group of parents, classmates and teachers.

Minutes before a couple dozen guitarists launched the concert with a rendition of "Crazy Train," Bonnie Brown waved at Josh, her budding musician son. "He is having so much fun and it helps him relax," she said.

This emphasis on music education runs counter to the trend in many schools. Budget cuts and concentration on core classes such as science, math and reading for state assessment tests have decimated many such programs. Some districts have curtailed music offerings altogether.

But not here.

?We have full support of our school board and believe it is important to educate the whole child. Music goes hand in hand with success in academics," noted Samantha Davis, D-3 music coordinator, who was nodding appreciatively from the sidelines. "Kids see it as something cool to be a part of and the teachers do a fine job of connecting with them."

Those watching the performances get a lot out of music, too. Sproul Principal Maureen di Stasio, pointed to the rapt students in the audience. "Look how well behaved and interested they are."

Parents were impressed, too. Nathan Hudson was there to see his daughter Natasha, a seventh- grade guitarist, perform. "I think the music program is great and that she has taken interest in it. The best I can do is play a CD."

Charisse Alvaran watched her daughters Reyna and Jaeline, nephew Dominic and niece Analisia. "It's a teen-age thing. They love music. But they are also learning all sorts of new things through music."

The district has become well-known not only with parents who transfer their students there because of its music reputation, but also to state and national music groups that have presented D-3 with numerous performance awards over the years.

Just recently D-3 was honored for outstanding commitment to music education, one of 307 districts nationwide to receive the "Best Communities for Music Education" designation by the National Association of Music Merchants.

Mesa Ridge High School in 2009 won a Grammy Foundation award for music excellence. The district often has been invited to perform at the Colorado Music Education Association convention, and the choir has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The high schools' musicians consistently win superior ratings in their categories at large festivals.

Music is mandatory a couple times a week for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, who learn to read music and find their singing voices. Music is an elective for upper grades, and includes not only band, orchestra and choir, but classes in music theory, piano and guitar. The district has 30 full time music teachers for 14 schools. One of those, Widefield Elementary is a performing arts and visual arts focus school.

Davis noted that the district has a 90 percent graduation rate. About 44 percent of the students in the district come from poor families. Davis credits music programs for keeping some students in school.

"We are reaching kids that sometimes don't have any other outlet, misunderstood kids who don't have a place and we help them be a part of school. Our music teachers take them under their wings."

Students who participate in music score better on academic growth in reading and math, Davis said.

Several eighth grade percussionists explained why they are entranced by music classes.

"It gets me moving and I make good friends," explained Stephen Wainwright.

Classmate Benney Trujillo said, "It helped me get through a lot and made me a better person."

Sommer Sigala put it this way," I just like to play."

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Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw

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