Sometimes a teacher comes into one’s life that goes over and beyond, perhaps bringing a few extra talents to the classroom or, in this case, the music room. Heather McCloud, a former student and now a parent, petitioned for nearly 100 signatures last month in hopes of strengthening the music program at J. L. Laird and David Thompson Secondary School to how it once was when teachers like Bruce Childs and Greg Constable brought their unique skillsets to the valley.
“Greg Constable was amazing. You could choose any instrument and he would teach you how to play it for the band program, which was exceptional, I learned two different instruments with him and then I graduated,” McCloud said. “I loved band. It was a big part of our experience of education here in the valley.”
With a son about to enter J.L. Laird in the fall, McCloud was on a high note with the musical possibilities that her son could fall in love with.
“I was really excited,” McCloud said. “Ukuleles and band programs — that was one of the reasons we moved back here because the music program was so great.”
All B.C. schools that teach Kindergarten through Grade 7 follow a fine arts curriculum, which includes music. Teachers are trained to teach to this standard as part of their B.C. teacher certification program and through teacher education programs. Having a specific music program exist in a school above and beyond the curricular expectation will depend on several factors, including the interests and special skills of teachers, student demand and availability of certified teachers to teach a course.
“I feel there was disconnect during 2017 and 2018, when the teachers changed and that led to a decline and a lot of kids ended up dropping out of band,” McCloud said. “The new teacher wasn’t able to attract kids to the music program that replaced the old one.”
Talent, style, and focus differs, but a music curriculum is still taught by qualified teachers when specialized programs are not able to exist.
“Music has been taught each year as part of the B.C. curriculum from K-7, including at J.A. Laird each year,” Assistant Superintendent, Steve Wyer, said. “There are several music classes offered at David Thompson Secondary School each year from which students select including, choir, stage band, and concert band. These classes were taught in the 2021-2022 school year.”
Maintaining student interest in music, creating full-time music teaching opportunities and finding qualified music teachers to teach part time music is a barrier for all rural communities.
The district has faced the music with this problem and, earlier this school year, David Thompson put out a search to recruit a music teacher for a small number of students who showed interest in music courses. Unfortunately, this was unsuccessful. In turn, a schedule had to be built for all students prior to the end of June that did not include options for band. J.L. Laird also searched for a qualified music teacher this past year with no success. If there are supports seen through student wants and demands, as well as school organizations, then a similar recruitment process for specialized music teachers will take place again early next spring.
“Since music teachers have a passion for teaching music, they often begin with School District 6 for a short period of time, teaching part-time music and other subject areas, then move on to opportunities that include larger components of music instruction in larger urban centres,” Wyer said. “The district understands there is an interest in specialized music programming in K-7 classrooms and can assure parents that the curriculum for fine arts in B.C. is taught in all classes. The district will continue to rigorously recruit music teachers for secondary programs to match student interest in music courses.”
Rocky Mountain School Districty 6 is located on the unceded territories of the Secwépemc and Ktunaxa People and the land chosen as home by the Métis Peoples.
Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer