For decades, the Puyallup School District has made it a paramount policy to ensure all students as early as fifth grade are exposed to band and orchestra opportunities.
However, eight years ago, it became increasingly clear that, to ensure programs could continue, a new curriculum model would have to be implemented.
“Many school districts, when they have had to make cuts, would cut band and orchestra at the elementary level and make middle school the beginning point,” said Brian Fox, the school district’s executive director of communications, information and arts education. “We’ve been able to retain our program by the way we serve the students.”
The original curriculum model had a band and orchestra teacher at each of the 21 elementary schools. Today, the model cuts that number in half and places instructors at each of the seven junior highs in each of the three regions of the district. The model costs the district $376,000 less in employment of certificated music teachers.
Fifth- and sixth-graders then go to the junior high that serves them for morning instruction in orchestra or band before the school day starts at their elementary school. When the 45-minute period is done, students take a bus back to their school.
There are about 1,000 elementary students enrolled district-wide this school year.
“The model gets the elementary kids into the junior high, so when they come here as seventh-graders, this place is way less intimidating because they’ve already been coming here,” said Todd Giltner, orchestra director at Aylen Junior High and Puyallup High School.
At Aylen, Giltner instructs sixth-graders on Mondays and Thursdays, and fifth-graders on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“I enjoy getting to know them,” he said. “They’re fun kids. I will have these kids through 12th grade. In some cases, I’ve taught their brothers and sisters before them, and I’ve taught children of former students. You build a relationship with them that lasts forever.”
During the 2005-06 school year, a 12-person committee that included parents, teachers and administrators gathered to discuss issues that pertained to the impacts that elementary pull-out programs for band and orchestra had on general classroom instruction, Fox said. They included disruption to instructional blocks of time; equal access to band and orchestra instruction in all elementary schools across the district; space and facility issues in the elementary schools; and challenges with teaching and building schedules.
The committee met and conducted research for two years, and it included a telephone survey of 25 school districts statewide that assessed various curriculum models and their success levels.
“Members of the committee made visitations to Auburn, Northshore and Bethel school districts to gather more information about their service-delivery models,” Fox said.
In June 2007, the committee recommended to provide equal access to band and orchestra for all fifth- and sixth-grade students. Transportation also was provided to ensure students were returned to their elementary school class prior to the start of the school day.
Last Thursday, Giltner instructed 20 sixth-grade students in his morning orchestra class at Aylen. Students performed on violins and violas, and two played cellos.
Titus Lindsay, a sixth-grader at Waller Road Elementary, said he loves to play the cello.
“It’s like water flowing through you,” he said. “I want to perform with Yo-Yo Ma some day.”
Giltner started the class out on scales and launched into the first song, “Ode to Joy.” Throughout rehearsal, Giltner helped students identify notes and focused on specific music passages for extra practice.
Giltner was constantly reminding his students about having good posture and technique.
“Sit up straight, no collapsed wrists,” he declared.
Giltner said posture and correct technique is something he emphasizes on to students through junior high and into high school.
During a last run through “Cripple Creek,” Giltner pointed out a rest in measure 13. He made it clear it was important that students honor that rest.
“You can’t play in the rest — you can’t,” Giltner said. “It makes people crazy. If it’s your neighbor, give them a look. Keep them out of the rest.”
Throughout rehearsal, Giltner played along with students on his own violin. He has taught as an orchestra director in the Puyallup School District for 28 years.
“The music programs in Puyallup are thriving,” Giltner said. “We keep at it, and we have a very supportive community, which is vital.”Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.