Band program cuts at Winnipeg high school strike sour note with students

Band program cuts at Winnipeg high school strike sour note with students

Band students at Sturgeon Heights Collegiate are making noise about budget cuts that have already cost them a teacher, and could have even bigger impacts next year.  

Students said they were told Tuesday that one of the school's two band teachers, who they thought had been on medical leave for several weeks, would not be returning due to budget constraints.

With only one band teacher remaining, some classes may have to be combined in the next school year, while extracurricular music courses — such as wind ensemble and jazz combo — and band trips will likely be cut.

"There were people crying," said Anna Woodman, a Grade 11 student, who was there when principal Ron Pelletier made the announcement.

"It didn't really register for a little bit until all of a sudden it was real. Like, they were just telling us he wasn't coming back."

Woodman said students were told the amount of provincial government funding that school divisions have received is not enough, and that in turn has affected school budgets.

"It was devastating for me to see how upset my child was because he was very heavily involved in the band program," said Jennifer Kallu, whose son is a Grade 11 band student.

"He has been a part of it since he started Sturgeon Heights in Grade 9 and half of his day at this point is music. Sometimes I think that's why he wakes up in the morning and goes to school — he just so looks forward to being a part of the program and playing with his friends and peers. So it's a huge part of his life."

In question period on Wednesday afternoon, Education Minister Ian Wishart was asked about the cuts and responded that the government has "provided a record amount of funding for the K-12 system in this province."

"Our government is focused on making sure that Manitoba students have access to a good education province-wide," he said. 

Premier Brian Pallister followed up saying music and arts are important but the province also has to deal with a deficit.

Student interest declining, officials say

The St. James-Assiniboia School Division cited a declining interest in band courses as a factor in the decision to change the band program.

"Programming at Collège Sturgeon Heights Collegiate is determined by the school administration based on many factors, not the least of which is the student demand for the courses offered," superintendent Brett Lough wrote in a statement to CBC News.

"With student interest in the Band programming on the decline over the past number of years at Collège Sturgeon Heights Collegiate, the school felt it could no longer maintain the previous level of staffing for Band. That said, there will continue to be a strong Band program at Collège Sturgeon Heights Collegiate next year."

But Kallu said she has not noticed class sizes declining in the band program.

"That's news to me because I feel that the class sizes are still quite large and actually, the most recent students, which are the Grade 9 students, is the largest group that they have right now," she said.

Students organizing concert

Woodman said the teacher who was let go is very passionate about music and his students, so it's been particularly difficult to hear he won't be coming back.

Students met after school Wednesday to organize a small concert off school property for the laid-off teacher. They want to "show him that we're fighting for him, we're trying to … give him some support," Woodman said.

As school divisions contend with budget constraints, Kallu said the role of music and arts education can't be forgotten. 

"I think that they need to understand that music education and the arts is important," she said.

"It's as important as the football or the hockey programs are, and I think kids need some extracurricular activities in their lives and it keeps them out of trouble, quite honestly. I think it's definitely something that should not be overlooked."