West Branch honored for music education

BELOIT – West Branch Local School District received a national award for its efforts in music education.

The district received the Best Communities for Music Education designation from the NAMM Foundation. Now in its 22nd year, the designation is awarded to districts that demonstrate outstanding achievement in efforts to provide music access and education for all students.

To qualify, West Branch answered detailed questions from the National Association of Music Merchants about funding, graduation requirements, music class attendance, instruction time, facilities, support in the music program and community music creation programs. Responses were verified with school officials and reviewed by the University of Kansas Music Research Institute.

The district’s strong music education program includes elementary general music, middle school choir, middle school band, rock ‘n roll history class, high school marching band, including majorette team and the colorguard team, the high school orchestra, the high school jazz band, the high school concert choir and the high school women’s choir. There are also a number of extracurricular musical activities in all schools, including the Middle School Show Choir, Middle School Jazz Band, High School Show Choir, and three to four musical theater productions per year.

The West Branch local school district is known for its professional-level musicals, with the music department putting on three or four shows each school year.  This year, the neighborhood had two casts for its Cinderella musical to accommodate members of the public with distancing restrictions in place.

“It’s unheard of for a (district) school the size of West Branch to do all the musical productions and concerts that we do,” said Krista Clay, middle and high school vocal music teacher for the district. “We offer extra-curricular ensembles at the college – the jazz band and the show choir. There are very few middle schools that can do this, especially in a small, rural school district.

The district has continued to provide these opportunities for students, even throughout the challenges of running rehearsals and music productions with COVID protocols in place – including separating grade-level performances and moving them to the college gymnasium to allow more space. High school musical theater productions were repeated masked and two groups were chosen for the district production of Cinderella, which provided the opportunity for additional performances to allow for greater attendance despite protocols.

“Not only do we have professional musicals, but we do three to four of them, whereas most schools are lucky enough to do one a year,” Clay said. “Mr. Zamarelli has made professional-caliber musicals, with some patrons even saying, ‘Wow! Your Phantom of the Opera was better than the one I saw in Ontario!’

Since Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 and its focus on comprehensive education, many school districts have recommitted to music and arts education programs and have found that in this time national pandemic, provides a valuable way to keep students engaged in school. ESSA provides designated funding for comprehensive educational opportunities through Title IV Part A Student Academic Achievement and Achievement Scholarships. NAMM Foundation research has found that these grants are widely used by school districts to fill educational gaps in access to music and arts education.

“Many students have gone on to careers in the fine arts, including many music teachers,” says Clay, herself a West Branch graduate. “We had students who received vocal and instrumental scholarships who were also not music majors. Many went on to participate in college-level ensembles or productions and received merit-based scholarships.

West Branch officials shared data on the value of music education for students:

Music education research continues to demonstrate educational/cognitive and social benefits for children who make music: After two years of music education, researchers found that participants showed more substantial improvements in how whose brains process speech and reading scores than their less involved peers, and that students who deal with music are not only more likely to graduate from high school, but also go on to college. university.

“Daily listening skills are stronger in musically trained children than in non-musically trained children. Significantly, listening skills are closely related to the ability to: perceive speech in an environment loud, paying attention and remembering sounds Later in life, individuals who took music lessons as children show stronger neural processing of sound: young adults and even older adults who do not haven’t played an instrument in 50 years exhibit improved neural processing compared to their peers’ skills, and how to give and receive constructive criticism.”

Alaya Kiser (Suzy);  Gabby Harrison (Missy);  Jillian Zamarelli (Cindy Lou);  and Julia Zamarelli (Betty Jean) starred in the West Branch High School production of "The Marvelous Marvels" earlier this year.
Cullen McKay portrayed Tevye in the West Branch High School production of "fiddler on the roof" during this past school year.

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