Nicole Denton, a middle school band and general music teacher in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, knows how to do her homework. Starting in 2009, after music teachers in her school district began receiving layoff notices one-by-one, she went to work. She prepared a packet of materials to present to the school finance committee that included:
- Detailed data that showed students who in school music programs has higher reading and math scores.
- A “Speak of Up for Music Advocacy” talking points paper that detailed how spending cuts affected music programs in the school district. Local funding was linked to state funding.
- Information about the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which mandates that music, is a core academic subject, “part of a basic education for every school child.
- A newspaper clipping from The Call in Woonsocket that was titled, “ Students, Parents over Fate of School Music Program,” media coverage of a Woonsocket School Committee meeting in 2009.
- Information on state fine arts requirements that students could not meet if programs were cut.
Funding was eventually found for the current school year, and some music-teacher positions were added back.
“We had the reputation of having one of best programs in Rhode Island before, little by little, music teachers were cut,” Denton said. She and other teachers, parents, and students fought back.
“We had a tremendous turnout, and it was dramatic,” Denton recalled. “Kids were crying and carried signs that said things like ‘Don’t Silence the Music in Woonsocket,’ while a parent’s sign stated ‘Take Note: We Want Music for Our Kids.’ ”
Nicole Denton works with her middle school band students.
Photo by Dan White
Denton, a one-time drum major, teaches in a low-income school where students face numerous challenges. Music plays a big role in their success in school, she said. It is such an important role that when band and chorus instruction were taken out of the daily schedule, students adjusted and now come in before school for music instruction.
“Our kids work hard, and while we don’t have a large parent group, the ones we have are very dedicated,” Denton said.
For the 2010–11 school year there is another music teacher at Villa Nova Middle School. He teaches band and chorus. Hamlet, the other middle school, has two music teachers as well.
School committee members said they faced difficult choices two years ago, including cutting spring high school sports, school nursing positions, and kindergarten teaching positions.
Those difficult decisions remain, but gradually music teacher positions in the Woonsocket Public Schools are being restored and music teachers were rehired on different grade levels.
Denton said the fight is not over, though. The high school program is understaffed. For the next school year, there is also talk of eliminating all electives, she said.
To keep music programs top of mind in the community, she is working to arm other music teachers in the district with advocacy materials, some of which were supplied by MENC.
“We need to keep spreading the word. I get my students out into the community as often as possible so people can see what we are doing.”
She said she is passionate about advocating for her music program. “I tell my students that if something is important you fight for it. I am fighting,” Denton said.
Denton will share some of her “fighting” techniques on March 29 during an MENC U Advocacy webinar.
—Roz Fehr, March 18, 2011. © MENC: The National Association for Music Education
Photo by Dan White