To the Editor,
The primary purpose of the Friends of Manchester Essex Performing Arts is to ensure that all students experience the Performing Arts and have the opportunity to participate in robust Performing Arts programs as a vital part of their K-12 education.
We find the commitment to the Performing Arts at the district level to be not up to par with those of other districts. In analyzing the data gathered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Schools, the Manchester Essex High School Report Card states that only 60 percent of students are engaged in the Arts. In comparison, districts identified as having similar demographics to us have participation rates from 72 percent to 96 percent. Other data points highlight the decrease in Arts participation throughout the High School years; freshman with a participation rate of 91 percent and seniors with a 28 percent participation rate. This decline is alarming and should be addressed.
The scheduling of the middle and high schools needs to be adjusted to allow for greater participation. Having some groups meet exclusively after school or in the evenings limits participation and causes our artists to make a choice between the Performing Arts and sports and clubs. Additionally, practices during U-Block do not afford students proper time to devote to band or chorus and do not allow our artists to access their teachers for extra help or enrichment. Middle school students should also have a schedule that enables them to participate in both band and chorus.
The Manchester Memorial Elementary School music teacher should not be a part-time position. If the district expects to attract and retain a high-quality dynamic teacher, the position must be full-time.
There should be more theater offerings at both the middle and the high schools. One play a year is not sufficient. Preferably, these plays would be supervised and directed in-house. However, if that is not possible, partnering with the YMCA should be revisited.
Performing Arts teachers and advisors should be trained in their respective fields. Every effort should be made to hire a long-term substitute for the high school chorus who has demonstrated skill and experience with voice.
The district needs to create a Performing Arts Director position. The students and teachers need an advocate at the curricular/administrative level to help ensure that the needs of these programs do not go overlooked.
Clearly, these issues fall into two different categories: staffing and programming. Staff is needed to build the programs. Programs are needed to justify the staff. In theater programs when tasked with a difficult challenge, the director, actors, and crew do not surrender with a defeatist’s attitude, but they come together to solve the problem. If Performing Arts is to be a priority in our district, we need to respond by bringing all constituents together so that we may successfully meet the needs of all our students.
Friends of Manchester Essex Performing Arts