Not enough student interest to run HHSS music course
By Sue Tiffin
Anabelle Craig first began playing the cello when she was four. Nowadays, the 15-year-old Grade 10 student plays the bowed string instrument every day. She wears a necklace that reads “my cello, my [heart]” and for many years was the youngest musician playing with the local Bowed Well string ensemble and the Highlands Chamber Orchestra.
One of the reasons she first entered the public school system as a Grade 9 student at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School after being home schooled throughout elementary school was because she was looking to take courses that were challenging, as a solo student, to take at home – that included instrumental music class. Though she takes private lessons and plays with the local ensemble and orchestra, high school music class offered some additional opportunities.
“It was … theory, and learning different types of instruments and playing with my peers … I kind of wanted to have that experience,” she said. High school music class enabled her to learn the trombone and gain experience she can put toward future post-secondary education and professional music goals.
Earlier this month, Anabelle learned that next year, music class at HHSS won’t run.
“[The guidance counsellor] told me, and she said my reaction was the same as the other eight people she’d told,” said Anabelle. “... I thought I was going to cry. I was like, you must be joking. I mean, we have a music room with a bunch of instruments and such good scores and it’s had a really good reputation and to cancel that …”
Music class was offered as a course selection, but too few students chose it as an option, meaning it will be postponed for the 2019-2020 school year.
“The number of students selecting music is just not there,” said HHSS principal Chris Boulay. “When students select it or not select it, that’s where we make decisions based on what courses are going to be offered next year, and this was simply a numbers issue. We had nine students in our entire building [of approximately 430 students] select music for next year, as an option. And they also select other options to ensure they at least get one. So depending on where courses fall, and we try and provide a myriad of options possible for our school and our kids, often, even though they select music, they can’t place it in their timetable because they also want to take math, physics, chemistry, biology and social studies. It becomes sometimes a competing interest and a numbers issue.”
Boulay said there wasn’t a minimum threshold for student numbers for the class, but in his experience, inevitably as the timetable process placed students in courses, the nine students enrolled would drop to a smaller number as scheduling conflicts came into play.
“That’s just not sustainable,” he said. “We talked about ideal class sizes, in these types of participation-based courses, having five students, I don’t even think you can have a member in each type of instrument, with five.”
Other elective courses might also run on a bi-annual schedule when there is low student selection, such as kinesiology and writer’s craft.
“Courses are offered on a regular basis and courses that end up being scheduled year-to-year are based on a number of factors,” Boulay said. “Some courses are also offered on an alternate year schedule.”
Boulay said timetabling and scheduling are complex.
“Every parent and every student who selected [music] will be disappointed for sure, but I think parents and kids are also understanding of the constraints and the numbers and the logistics,” said Boulay. “In an ideal world, we could offer and run every course that every student selects, but that’s just not the way staffing and timetabling works. Students vote with their feet, or in this case course selections, right? And when there’s a large interest, that is usually a non-issue for a large contingency.”
Within county elementary schools, specific instrumental music classes are offered only at Archie Stouffer Elementary School.
“In secondary schools, low student enrollment would certainly be a reason for not running a program,” said Catherine Shedden, TLDSB district manager of corporate communications. “Typically in an elementary school it depends on a number of factors including the availability of instruments and the collective interests of teachers in the building.”
Boulay said some students who had planned on taking the instrumental music class were opting to enrol in a guitar class that has proven to be popular.
“Our school continues to look to offer a variety of engaging programs and we will continue to offer music in subsequent years, along with a myriad of other courses that are not running necessarily as well, in the interest of serving our kids and our community,” he said. “We realize we’re a culture-based community, lots of arts and culture here, and our interest is going to be continuing to support kids who have an interest in that particular area.”
Boulay said principals across Ontario have the ability to grant high school music credits to students achieving certain Royal Conservatory levels reached through private lessons and that some courses could be taken through alternative ways.
“It’s not based on anything other than not enough students demonstrating an interest, so we look to provide those particular programs through different means, whether it’s online courses depending on the course, summer school, virtual learning, and that’s where our board’s program with regards to the virtual learning courses has really been second to none,” he said.
He encouraged students to find creative outlets in extra-curricular activities, making suggestions for new groups to fill gaps if need be.
“With regards to extra-curriculars and bands, I always say to kids, ask for it, find an adult, we’ll do it,” said Boulay.