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updated: 12/10/2013 12:26 AM

Dist. 204 to begin band, orchestra one year later

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Instrumental music education will begin in sixth grade instead of fifth for future students in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 as the district works to make band and orchestra training more consistent and increase student retention.

The changes drew more than an hour of debate Monday night among school board members concerned a later start to instrumental music would hamper students' opportunities to experience band or orchestra.

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But educators said the changes are designed to ease scheduling and staffing challenges that are making instrumental education inconsistent across schools in the district that serves parts of Naperville, Aurora, Bolingbrook and Plainfield.

"The district's music leaders believe the program will provide middle school instrumental teachers with the time needed to standardize and enhance curriculum" teach skills in a better sequence and offer more consistent contact with students said William Jastrow, the district's coordinator for music education.

Band and orchestra begin in fifth grade now, but students receive instruction only once a week, requiring them to leave other classes for the pullout sessions. Under the new model, to which the district will begin transitioning next fall, students will receive full ensemble classes as well as daily instruction with others who play similar instruments led by two teachers.

The changes eliminate the practice of pulling students out of core classes to learn music technique. Beginning music instruction in sixth grade will remove the obstacle some face in getting students to before-school band or orchestra classes, and will provide access to a larger bank of loaner instruments for families who cannot afford to rent or buy their own, Jastrow said.

The format will allow music educators to expand on the music literacy and skill-based curriculum they already offer -- a curriculum that has helped the district's schools receive recognition several times through the prestigious Grammy awards.

"I hear you saying you're concerned about the quality of music education. The Grammys really are just a bonus," board President Lori Price said. "Can you ensure this board and this community that we will continue to have a quality music program?"

Jastrow said the goal of beginning music education in sixth grade instead of fifth is not just to maintain the quality of bands and orchestras across the district but to improve on it.

Still, board members Mark Rising and Maria Curry, three parents and one student voiced opposition.

Curry said she worries delaying the start of instrumental education will advantage students whose parents can pay for private lessons.

"I'm just really shocked that we're sitting here talking about delaying that (music) experience until the sixth grade for kids," she said.

Since the changes do not affect the instrumental music curriculum itself, just the model of instruction and when it will begin, Superintendent Kathy Birkett said they are moving forward as an administrative decision without a board vote.

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