On September 12, three members of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) attended a Rose Garden speech by President Barack Obama at the White House. Although their visits were brief, the teachers are using the event to generate support for music education issues.
The president speaks in the Rose Garden on September 12.
NAfME advocacy staff worked with the White House and the U.S. Department of Education to identify exemplary music teachers to participate in the event.
One of the teachers was Jason Chuong, an instrumental teacher from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who teaches at seven different public schools. During a pre-speech reception, Chuong was able to speak briefly with President Obama.
The following day, the president made a speech at Fort Hayes Art and Academic High School in Columbus, Ohio, and he mentioned Chuong and how hard he works to bring a high-quality classroom experience to his students. Chuong is working with NAfME on advocacy issues. Read more about his efforts.
The other two teachers who attended the event, Ron Frezzo and Brian Stacey, said it was meaningful for them as well, and believed the experience would help as they look for ways to advocate for their music education programs.
A Visit to the Rose Garden
Ron Frezzo, a vocal music teacher instructor for 24 years at Richard Montgomery High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, is also the advocacy chair for the Maryland Music Educators Association (MMEA), a federated state affiliate of NAfME.
Ron Frezzo poses near members of “The President”s Own” United States Marine Band.
Frezzo said, “It was a thrill and an education to participate in this national event.” He described the White House visit:
I was privileged to be invited to the Rose Garden of the White House. We were admitted through the first security check at about 9:45 a.m. While waiting to go through the second, more thorough, screening (with a bag screener and walk-through metal detectors), about 20 members of the approximately 150 guests were called into a separate waiting area and were announced to be on a “social” list of some type. (Chuong, the Philadelphia music educator, was among them.)
As the rest of us entered the White House through the East Doors, I could see this group in a room, apparently being briefed. The rest of us were led outside by the South Portico where we waited under a sunny, cloudless sky for approximately 30 minutes while being entertained by members of the Marine Band playing chamber music. We enjoyed the stunning view across the emerald expanse of the South Lawn to the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument. I had several interesting conversations with people from diverse groups.
At 10:30 we were led to the Rose Garden. Luckily I found a seat about five rows back on the center aisle affording me a direct view of the podium; in another 15 minutes the pre-selected 20 – representing the various labor groups highlighted by the President in his address – came out and took their positions on the steps behind the Presidential podium. The President and Vice President came out of the West Wing at 11:00 a.m.
He gave a 15 minute-speech on his Jobs bill… saying it would help keep firefighters, police, construction workers, teachers, on the job and contributing to our society. Mr. Obama paid special attention to the needs of having teachers in the classrooms for the future of our country and he was interrupted frequently by spontaneous applause. After the speech he thanked us all for being there, shook some hands and went back into the White House.
“In preparing for this visit I spent numerous hours reviewing materials on music advocacy. While late in my career, I believe more and more that we must fight, and that there is a good reason to fight, to maintain and promote the role of music education in the schools,” Frezzo later commented.
“As music teachers often feel alone, we must be our own best advocates. Go to the NAfME website! Have the statistics at hand about the role of music in promoting the whole student; perform the best music you can. Students don’t need pablum.” He urged other music educators to enlist the support of parents “because they are your best supporters.”
Taking the White House Experience Home
Brian Stacey, a member of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA), teaches general music, music theory, and 4th through 12th grade instrumental music in the Glendale (Pennsylvania) School District. He also attended the White House event.
Brian Stacey stands in front of the presidential podium after White House speech.
Stacey said that watching students grow from beginning music students in fourth grade through high school marching band students is rewarding for him.
As rewarding as the work is, he said Pennsylvania’s budget woes resulted in the loss of one of his school’s general music teacher positions. “We are fighting to keep a high-quality program in our school district, but it’s hard because we are still considered expendable when budget talks roll around.”
Stacey, a past PMEA district president, said he believes his White House visit will help him advocate for music education for all. “I’ve already done a couple of local interviews, and it gave me a chance to discuss music education advocacy,” Stacey said.
He also described his White House experience as unique. “As something of political junkie, I was fascinated with the behind the scenes workings, how we went through security, how there was a protocol for everything.”
He added that “the whole thing was really amazing. There were some really high-powered people there. There was super security and they were watching everything you did, but there was nothing there that made me feel uncomfortable.”
Stacey also said the trappings of the office of president of the United States were impressive. “I was about 15 feet from the president, and you could just feel the power of the office.”
He said he was prepared to talk of teacher cuts in Pennsylvania due to the state’s recent budget crisis and will continue to do so in his rural district. The loss of a general music teaching position recently is why he has begun teaching elementary general music again.
“We fight hard to keep teaching positions, but a lot of government officials consider us expendable. We went through the same thing about 10 years ago, and we will continue to fight. When they look at budgets they think we don’t matter because kids aren’t tested in our subject.”
Stacey’s school does have some powerful allies, though. “Because we are in a rural area, our school is the center of the community. Everyone comes to our concerts, everyone supports our sports. We are very important here.”
—Roz Fehr, September 30, 2011. © NAfME: The National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)
Photos courtesy of Ron Frezzo and Brian Stacey