Canada Local school boards defy provincial trends in arts education

15:16  19 may  2017
15:16  19 may  2017 Source:   Windsor Star

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There may be sour notes coming from the majority of Ontario schools when it comes to music and arts education , but local students are singing a different tune. A survey of 1,000 Ontario schools released this week found that only 41 per cent report having a full-time or part-time music teacher.

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051817-MUSIC2.jpg-234898243-MUSIC2-W.jpg: Holy Names student Tristan Zanier, 13, talks with Mike Seguin, the Catholic school board's head of its arts education, at St. Joseph's high school in Windsor on May 18, 2017. © Dan Janisse, Windsor Star Holy Names student Tristan Zanier, 13, talks with Mike Seguin, the Catholic school board's head of its arts education, at St. Joseph's high school in Windsor on May 18, 2017.

There may be sour notes coming from the majority of Ontario schools when it comes to music and arts education, but local students are singing a different tune.

A survey of 1,000 Ontario schools released this week found that only 41 per cent report having a full-time or part-time music teacher. That’s a drop of seven per cent in the last decade, according to research by the education website People For Education.

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In contrast, 91 per cent of elementary schools — and all 15 high schools — in the Greater Essex County District School Board employ music teachers.

051817-MUSIC1.jpg-234898241-MUSIC1-W.jpg: Sharbelle Torres, left, and Meeghan Ferguson warm up in the bleachers prior to a performance at St. Joseph's high school in Windsor on May 18, 2017. © Dan Janisse, Windsor Star Sharbelle Torres, left, and Meeghan Ferguson warm up in the bleachers prior to a performance at St. Joseph's high school in Windsor on May 18, 2017.

In the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, 34 of 36 elementary schools have music programs along with all eight high schools.

The plan is for all schools to have music programs by September.

“(Arts) seems to be in the DNA of this board,” said Mike Lilley, a public board teacher consultant who is responsible for overseeing the arts programs.

“When we build new schools, they have rooms for music and the arts. Ninety-one per cent of our elementary schools have full instrument programs.

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“We’ve added three schools in the last five years, so the trend is on the increase.”

Even those schools that don’t have full programs have access to instruments.

The board has also put together visual arts kits to aid teachers in integrating music and the arts into the curriculum.

“Sometimes I feel guilty when talking with my colleagues across the province, hearing what they’re facing,” Lilley said.

“We’re very fortunate that senior administration and the trustees place a real value on arts education.”

The public board re-affirmed that commitment with the recent approval of the template for the new $42.9-million JK-to-Grade 12 school scheduled to open in 2019 in Kingsville.

Both the elementary and secondary portions of the building will have their own rooms dedicated to art and music.

“We’re definitely trending towards doing more, unlike the rest of the province,” Lilley said.

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Holy Names student Tristan Zanier, 13, talks with Mike Seguin, a superintendent of education for the Catholic school board, at St. Joseph’s high school in Windsor on May 18, 2017.

Mike Seguin, a superintendent of education for the Catholic board, believes some local factors explain the massive differences in the level of local music/arts programming compared to the rest of the Ontario.

“Windsor is a unique place in the province,” said Seguin, who spent the day organizing the board’s annual All-Star Band night and musical awards ceremony at St. Joseph’s high school on Thursday.

“It’s always been a hotbed for music and musicians. I think that’s partly because of being next to the U.S. and all the music and arts (in Detroit).”

The survey also found that music/arts programs were more susceptible to financial cuts than other programming. There was difficulty in finding qualified music teachers in rural areas and there was a lack of space, instruments and art supplies.

“If it’s a priority, the dollars are put behind it,” Seguin said. “I’ve had many conversations with the director of education and we are committed to the arts.”

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That commitment is reflected in the transition planning the board is doing in lining up qualified music teachers to cover the gaps created by retirements.  

“We already have a lot of those teachers in place,” Seguin said. “There’s been a real focus on staffing and qualifications. We want to maintain these programs.”

Both boards also focus on expanding opportunities in the arts.

It’s meant partnering with a lot of community groups ranging from the Windsor Symphony Orchestra to dance/drama groups and the Windsor Art Gallery.

For example, symphony musicians and conductor Robert Franz are regular visitors to area schools.

Students’ artwork and photographs are also displayed for public showings at the University of Windsor.

And both boards use cross-curricular promotion of the arts in a variety of subjects.

“The arts energize the creative process,” Lilley said. “It lets the students express their own voice.

“Being creative and expressing their individuality is something that should be fostered,” he added.

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