Junior highs change requirements for art, music

Starting next year at Peet and Holmes Junior High’s, choir, orchestra, band and art will not be required classes for seventh graders to take.

Principal Jeremy Jones explained that the secondary administrators have been mulling around this change in schedule for many years. “The decision regarding art and music no longer being a requirement for seventh grade students was made collectively between department chairs, counselors and administrators from all three of the secondary buildings in our school district (Holmes, Peet and the high school). Everyone who participated in those discussions understands the value that the fine arts program provides to our students. We felt like the course of study that was created for the 2017-2018 school year provided us with the best opportunity to expose our seventh graders to exploratory areas that they have not experienced at the elementary level while still providing students with many opportunities to participate in the fine arts,” Jones said.

The music department is looking at this change in a positive way and knows this will help students grow and take different paths. “Kids love to be involved in music and the arts, and the Cedar Falls School District has been recognized statewide for excellence in the fine arts,” high school band teacher Kyle Engelhardt said. “We hope students continue to choose to further their arts education by continuing with the investments in music they’ve made in the elementary schools. We know how much students enjoy performing music in the elementary, and even though it may no longer be required, we hope they will continue to grow and make music at the junior high and high school levels. Music is a lifelong pursuit, and only gets better the more you are involved with it.”

There will be no cuts in the music or art programs, just minor changes in the music placements. “Students will see a slight difference in the vocal program for next year compared to previous years,” Engelhardt said. “There will no longer be a general music class offered. Instead, the plan is to offer more appropriate performance-based classes. The choir department is choosing to switch over to a treble clef choir (high voices) and bass clef choir (low voices) model. All seventh and eighth grade women wanting to be in choir will sing in the 7/8 treble clef choir. All seventh and eighth grade men wanting to be in choir will sing in the 7/8 bass clef choir. This change is happening so students can work together through their voice changes and receive more individualized attention for instruction in grades seven and eight.”

This change in choir was made as a way to help students who may feel pressure when singing in front of half of their seventh, eighth or ninth grade classes, including the opposite gender. “I feel as though the seventh graders that want to be involved won’t because they’re scared they might get judged,” Peet eighth grader Johnathan Moran said. With the new change in chorus, males and females will be in different classes, making it more comfortable for some to sing.

In place of the required art and music classes, computer science classes will take their place. “Art will be replaced as a required exploratory with computer science and technology,” Director of Secondary Schools Dan Conrad said. “Since we now provide all students with their own Chromebooks in seventh grade and are expanding our computer science offerings in the upper grades, this course will expose students to many areas of computer technology that have not been a consistent part of their elementary curriculum, such as robotics, programming or networking and computer hardware.”

With this change in seventh grade scheduling being made, there are many different pros and cons. Most seventh, eighth and ninth grade students know there will be a change in enrollment  in the once required classes, but said they think there will be new opportunities that they will enjoy more.

“I think that there would definitely be less students signing up for music classes because I know lots of people who were out of their comfort zone in a required chorus class including myself in seventh grade,” Holmes freshman Reagan Wetlaufer said.

In the past, some students said they felt forced to be in these classes and acted out, but with this change they now can pursue classes that they enjoy more. “I think that it is a good thing because it will give kids more room to pursue their other interests instead of forcing them to keep doing something they do not enjoy,” Peet freshman Ella Rekow said.

Some students, however, think the change will lead to students missing a chance to explore something that could’ve developed into something much more.

“Personally, I think that at least for seventh graders they should have to take at least one art/music class. I know many of my friends who are in band to this day joined in seventh grade, and that opened their lives up to a whole world that they had been shielded from,” Peet freshman Xavier Adams said.

Some ninth graders who have three years of experience with chorus and art say these classes are a way to relax and have fun. “Arts and musics are ways kids going through rough times in junior high can just relax and do what they like without stressing about friends, school and social life,” Holmes freshman and three-year choir student Abbie Morlan said.

Some fear that kids may not be exposed to the joy that music and art may bring them. “If I could, I would vote ‘no’ on this decision because art and music can be a different type of language that many people don’t realize is important to the world,” Peet freshman  Alyssa Neese said.

For students like Neese, art and music classes are also a way to show what they can do artistically and interact in a different way than they could during other classes. “If I was entering into seventh grade, I would take as many of these electives as I could because not only is it a way to show your talents, it is also a great way to meet new people and interact with them,” Peet eighth grader Johnathan Moran said.

Although this change will only affect incoming seventh graders next year, many people have opinions on this change in scheduling. Currently, at Holmes and Peet, students who are not in band or orchestra have to take chorus. A lot of seventh graders begin by thinking they will not enjoy choir, but they end up enjoying it and sticking with it.

“I really like my music and art classes. I didn’t think I would at first,” Holmes seventh grader Olivia Smothers said.

But the other half of the seventh graders said they should be able to pick the classes they want to do and have more control. “I don’t think they should be required because kids get that experience in primary school,” Holmes seventh grader Jalen Steege said.

One positive out of this decision is more student freedom. “We also wanted to provide seventh grade students with the opportunity to begin taking ownership for selecting the courses in which they may be interested, something they currently are not allowed to do until 8th grade,” Conrad said. “Right now, seventh graders are all required to take the same courses (other than choosing which music course they wanted to take).  Beginning next year, seventh graders will be allowed to select classes in music, art and world cultures (a seventh grade elective currently offered only in eighth grade).”

Students will be able to find things they want to pursue throughout middle school and later on in life. “I would vote ‘yes’ to this decision because this gives kids an opportunity to pick and have more freedom for the classes they take,” Peet eighth grader Alanna Fishel said.

Another positive would be the new classes coming out of the changed scheduling. “The pro is related to some of the new courses that are being introduced to our course of study for the first time or being brought back to the course of study for our junior high students,” Jones said. “We are really expanding some of the offerings that we have for students in the area of computer science, which will allow students to continue with similar classes at the high school level and through our CAPS program. This area is one of the fastest growing job markets within our economy, and the experiences that students receive in junior high and high school will provide students with opportunities to explore this area as a potential career option. In addition, we are bringing health back to the course of study in eighth grade. Health was an area that we felt needed to be more systematically addressed with all of our junior high students.”

Though it remains to be seen how students will sign up for music and art, administrators do know that kids will be able to explore new subjects and learn more about themselves. “Until we actually have students register for classes, we will not know for sure the impact it may have on art and music enrollments. We do not believe it will have a negative impact, since most students will still have the option of enrolling in those classes as electives. We believe students will benefit greatly from the new computer science and technology exploratory class, and will appreciate the opportunity to be able to select some of their elective classes based on their interests,” Conrad said.

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