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Nebo parents fight for music program

John Benham
John Benham

SPANISH FORK — Parents worried about maintaining music programs for sixth-graders after the Nebo School District does away with its middle schools and sends those students back to elementary schools are seeking advice from a prominent music-education advocate.

John Benham, director of graduate studies in music at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn., and a music advocacy consultant since 1981, will talk with parents Saturday morning.

"I'll work with the community in helping them understand how the system works and see what we can do to facilitate the program and perhaps expand it," said Benham, who has consulted with some 300 school districts in 46 states and six Canadian provinces. "I don't come in to tell people what to do."

Nebo District chiefs plan to move sixth-graders into elementary schools, and push seventh-graders into junior highs. That will eliminate middle schools and create building space for new schools.

The south Utah County district is one of the fastest-growing in the state.

Shuffling will begin fall 2006 in schools in Springville. Schools in Spanish Fork and Payson will change the following year, Nebo Superintendent Chris Sorensen said.

Middle school students in the Nebo District can take band, choir and orchestra. Parents worry that when sixth grade becomes part of elementary school, the students' music education will suffer. Students in elementary schools receive music classes from their regular teachers, Sorensen said.

Parents last spring formed the Nebo Performing Arts Council. They have created a Web site — — to drum up support for the music classes, said Su Tullis, a parent who is active in the council.

Nebo officials from the district will be at the Saturday meeting.

"We're trying to listen to a lot of things the music coalition is saying," Sorensen said.

Still, Sorensen said he can't make any promises that sixth-grade band, choir and orchestra programs will continue when the students are sent to elementary schools.

"It's impossible to replicate the same kinds of music programs at 25 elementary schools that we've had at three middle schools," he said. "The best proposal we've heard from the coalition is to have a program before and during school, and the instructors would be rotating."

Benham has found that music programs often work well when students begin serious training in voice or an instrument in the fifth grade. Starting music education early is integral to brain development, he said.

In some elementary schools in other parts of the country, he said, fifth-graders are pulled out of their regular classrooms for music classes.

Also, he said, some districts have programs before school. The remaining students who are not in music have an opportunity to receive individualized attention from their teachers.

But the music students rarely fall behind academically, he said.

"For example, the SAT — you'll find music students, in spite of being pulled out, are still on top of the test scores," Benham said.

Benham is analyzing data from the Nebo School District in such areas as faculty-student ratio, the music curriculum in comparison to other districts nationally and economic viability of a music program in comparison to other programs in the district.

Benham argues that music is economically advantageous for a district. Music teachers have classes of 100-150 students; therefore, music classes are cheaper.

"The advantage for the district is if the music classes are large, then your other classes such as physics can be small. It balances the class sizes."