The Arlington school district’s $32 million fine arts building won’t be ready until August 2018, but a key piece of the project is already beginning.
This fall, the district will start a two-year instrument repair course at Bowie High School. The program will give upperclassmen from across the district a chance to get a head start on an in-demand career field.
The course also complements an emphasis on using money from last year’s $663.1 million bond program to bolster fine arts education, administrators say. The repair course will eventually be housed in the new fine arts building, along with a 2,500-seat performance space and classrooms.
“Whether it’s in performance, music education or the music business, we’re providing students every opportunity that one could envision,” said Jeremy Earnhart, the district’s fine arts director.
Though a handful of colleges offer instrument repair courses, Arlington’s will be the first of its kind at a high school, Earnhart said.
“Specifically in Texas, because of the population, there is a high need for instrument-repair technicians,” he said.
Earnhart said the new program fits well with the district’s “Achieve Today. Excel Tomorrow” strategic plan, which calls for 100 percent of students to graduate on time and be career- or college-ready.
A public-private partnership between the district and the Music & Arts instrument seller in Frederick, Md., is key to the repair program. With 140 locations, Music & Arts is the country’s largest band and orchestra instrument retailer. The company will provide an experienced repair instructor to teach the course and award a certification to students who complete the two-year curriculum.
Maintaining a musical instrument is important because the purchase price can run $1,000 to $10,000, said Vincent Chiappone, Music & Arts’ Texas sales director. Until now, a student wanting to learn how to service band and orchestra instruments would have had to find an apprenticeship with an experienced technician.
The Arlington students will be able to graduate with skills that will make them job-ready, he said.
“Depending on the company you’re working for, you can make a really good living doing it. We have people working for us 40 years, and they wouldn’t be doing that if they weren’t making a good living,” Chiappone said. “It’s a job that’s fairly sought-after, but it’s not taught everywhere. It’s almost like an art form.”
The fine arts building is part of the bond program voters approved by nearly 70 percent in 2014. A significant portion of the money is aimed at strengthening fine arts and removing barriers to students’ access. Other components include buying new instruments and uniforms, upgrading many facilities and opening dual-language/fine arts academies at two district elementary schools.
Starting next fall, the district has eliminated a $150 instrument usage fee for band and orchestra students in seventh through 12th grades.
Already, administrators have seen a 22 percent increase in participation districtwide, and schools where more students face economic hardships have registered even larger increases. At Hutcheson Junior High, where more than 90 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, the enrollment in music programs has jumped 160 percent, Earnhart said.
Music & Arts repair experts designed the curriculum with additional guidance from the National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians. Classes will be small — 12 to 14 students — to allow for close instruction, much like an auto technology course.
Even if students don’t want to make instrument repair their profession, know-how gained in the course will help them in other music careers, including many who will go on to become orchestra and band directors and instructors, Chiappone said.
Arlington’s course could be a model for other schools to follow in the future, he said.
“This is the first time we’ve done this, too, and we’re really honored to take on this challenge and help Arlington ISD with this program,” Chiappone said.