Mineola ranked among best for music education

U.S. News reports that more than 80 percent of schools in the nation have cut funds since 2008 by reducing or abolishing music programs and yet, the Mineola Union Free School District holds strong in music education. They were named one of the “Best Communities for Music Education” by the National Association of Music Merchants for the eighth consecutive year.

This recognition is given to the best schools for music education in the country after they are evaluated on statistical and factual information, success and opportunities for their students.

The district’s commitment to music education goes against what the nationwide trend has been in public schools over the last 10 years. Most schools have been forced to downsize or completely discontinue music departments due to lack of funds.

Cindy Bell, head of the music education department at Hofstra University, said balancing “STEM” subjects, which includes science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with the arts has been a struggle for many schools.

“The No Child Left Behind Act judged students on testing,” said Bell. “One of the many problems with that is the arts can’t really be tested; they’re performance based. So by the act’s standards, they were not fundable.”

While funds were drying up everywhere else, the district maintained what they had, thanks to their administration, teachers and supportive parents.

“No program should be eliminated because of lack of funds, you may be forced to make reductions but it cannot be at the expense of any one program,” said the superintendent of the district, Michael Nagler. As a whole, the faculty at the district feel music is a crucial part to a child’s well-rounded education.

The district starts music instruction in kindergarten and continues it on through 12th grade. The fine and preforming arts department at the public school includes concert band, drama, choral programs, orchestra, jazz band, color guard and marching band.

“There is a home for anyone on any music level in our program,” said Megan Messina, choral director for grades 8-12. “We are able to cater to the talent the kids have and give them all the opportunities they need to thrive!”

Every child is started on an instrument in third grade and districtwide. More than 50 percent of the students play an instrument, according to Joe Owens, supervisor of fine and performing arts.

At the middle school, over one-third of the students are involved in the drama program. In the high school, around half of the students are involved in music. According to Owens, their marching band ranks in the top of the state in their class.

Anyone who wants to be involved in a program is allowed, they just have to want to be there. Such widespread student involvement is an accomplishment considering kids tend to gravitate way from music as they age.

“The fact that we are a small school, means very few kids fall through the cracks…We find the kids who are in the shadows, maybe a little shy, the kids who maybe need a little extra encouragement, and we get them involved,” said Messina.

Many of the different music teachers share their students, allowing them to partake in multiple programs. Being involved in these programs takes up a lot of time and the district knows the kids don’t do it on their own. Owens said they have “tremendous parent involvement.”

“The parents are the driving factor for giving us their kids,” said Owens.

There is a parent group at the district that volunteers to help the department. They’re called the Mineola Music Parents Association and they support all of the high school programs. Some of their duties include raising funds, managing publicity and most importantly, acting as an audience at every music event.

“You see the kids smiling and proud of what they have accomplished. Makes it all worth it,” said Beth Walton, co-president of the association.

In addition to skills like singing, playing an instrument and acting, Messina feels that children learn valuable lessons in music programs.

“For me it’s about an opportunity for real critical thinking through music analysis and performance,” said Messina. “They get a real opportunity at critical thought and then turn their work into a product that just happens to be enjoyable to watch and hear.”

Aside from learning new skills and being given the opportunity to be expressive, participating in these programs comes with benefits outside of the classroom.

“A young teenage who finds a place in the music room will get in less trouble outside of school because they’ve found their place and their home and where they belong!” said Bell.

“I can’t imagine life without music!” said Nagler. “The purpose of school is to expose children to everything the world has to offer. Playing and enjoying music is one of these things.”