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Aspen schools streamline performing arts

Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesThe Aspen High School theater department recently produced Stephen Sondheim's musical "Into the Woods," with Kidd Duhe Solomon and Zoe Levine. The Aspen School District's performing arts program will be streamlined next year, which means the middle and high school theater programs will be under the direction of one teacher.
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ASPEN – The Aspen School District will reconfigure its performing arts program for the 2012-13 school year. And while the decision translates to one fewer teacher in the department, the hope is that it will help build a stronger program.

In a memo to the Aspen Board of Education, school and district administrators said that while participation in the performing arts – theater, choir, band and orchestra – is strong at the middle school level, it falls off significantly in high school. In fact, students enrolled in performing arts classes have represented approximately 11 percent of the student population during the past five years.

A survey of Aspen High School students shed a little light on why this might be, with many respondents – 68 percent – saying they simply had no interest. But others offered ideas about what the district could do to entice them to enroll in performing arts courses, including expanding class options, making the classes “better known/cooler/fun” and placing different teachers.

At Monday’s school board meeting, a plan to streamline the performing arts program was unveiled. Currently, there is a theater teacher and a music teacher at both Aspen Middle School and Aspen High School. Under the scenario presented Monday, the district would mesh the two schools’ programs by employing one theater director, one vocal music director and one instrumental music director. Each of these teachers would be responsible for students in grades five through 12.

“This opens greater possibilities for an individual to build a consistent, appealing program beginning in the earlier grades and maintaining the interest in high school through continuity of goals, instruction and presentation styles,” the memo to the board stated.

The move also eliminates one full-time teaching position, though the person currently in this role will be reassigned to fill another vacancy at the middle school in 2012-13.

Students, parents and faculty members, several of whom attended Monday’s school board meeting, don’t want to see resources for the performing arts taken away, but they also understand the financial pressures of having such programs, especially if they aren’t flourishing.

“I just worry that if we start cutting programs that enhance our students’ school experience, we are losing a very important facet of their education,” said middle school music teacher Nancy Beyea, who will move into the role of instrumental music director next year. “The value of these programs cannot be measured in standardized tests, and that makes it very difficult sometimes.”

Parent Regina DeWetter agreed.

“Performing arts education consists of more than just singing, dancing, reciting lines, designing a set or playing an instrument in front of an audience. It allows for the expression of creativity, encourages perseverance, demands courage and enables following one’s dreams,” she said. “I am thankful to the school board for addressing the need for improvement in the performing arts education program in the Aspen schools because I believe the music program at the high school is less than what it could be.

“As a parent of young musicians, I want my children to have a whole range of opportunities to learn about music, practice their instruments and perform with robust musical groups at the high school level in hopes of instilling a lifelong love of music.”

The new performing arts program will be monitored and evaluated over the next two years to gauge its success and decide whether further modifications are warranted.

jmcgovern@aspentimes


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