Arlington Citizen-Journal

For Arlington schools, a band program with a whole new tune

Faced with eight years of declining band participation and little success at UIL marching contests, the Arlington school district plans to revamp its band program, starting with the elimination of sixth-grade band.

Jeremy Earnhart, the district’s new fine arts director, will oversee the overhaul, which he will base on the model used by the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district, where he led L.D. Bell High School to state and national band titles between 1998 and 2009.

“Kiddos starting in the sixth grade are not developing the way we want,” Earnhart said. “Their counterparts are getting 45 minutes of practice every day” in beginner classes.

Earnhart said rather than 11 instruments being taught by one director, the goal is for one instrument group to be taught by one director.

“This individualized instruction allows the students to experience fast success and skills-scaffold quickly,” he said.

Off the bandwagon

Since 2005, Martin High School band enrollment has decreased by 100 students and Bowie High School has lost 64 students. Arlington High School, which has the highest number of transfers, gained 67.

The cause of the decline dates to the late 1990s, when the district reconfigured its schools into different grade levels. Band implementation in sixth grade became a reality to keep Arlington on a level playing field for UIL competitions.

But over time that plan did just the opposite.

Arlington bands were the only participants to make a second division in this year’s UIL Region Marching Contest. With the changes, Earnhart said, the district will again rank in the 90 percent of 5A schools in the state to make a first division.

The district has 12 full-time junior high head band directors and some traveling band teachers. Because many of the band directors travel to several elementaries to teach band that travel time is cut from the beginning and end of each instructional period, Earnhart said.

All junior high and elementary band teachers will be assigned to schools so that children will have two full-time band directors. Earnhart said no one will lose his or her job.

He said the new shift in teaching will keep students involved, and after a little pleading with the district he was able to keep former director Bill Huff from retirement for a bit longer.

Huff served as director from 2006 until July and mentored Earnhart while he was fine arts director for the Irving school district for the past four years. He agreed to work part time until Earnhart has his feet on the ground.

“I still have love for this. I’ve been involved in Arlington fine arts for 30 years,” Huff said.

Huff said he tried to make change happen while he was the director but for some reason never could. He said he is a little hurt about it, but elated that change is coming.

“It’s nothing the district did that wasn’t supportive of fine arts,” he said.

Education echoes music

Earnhart points to the facts of a 2006-10 Texas Music Educators and Texas Coalition for Quality Art Education report that shows junior and high school students involved in Fine Arts courses score 11-12 percent higher on the SAT than those with no Fine Arts courses.

Results from a capital needs survey show that the community overwhelmingly agrees the district needs to increase the availability and quantity of fine arts facilities, and that they would support a plan to provide musical instruments for those who cannot afford them.

Mark Chandler is the HEB ISD Fine Arts director, but from 2001-2006 he served as Arlington’s Fine Arts director while the shift was made.

Chandler said HEB has used a team-teaching method for the past 50 years in not only band, but choir too. He also agreed no one is at fault for what happened to Arlington bands, it was out of the district’s control.

He said there is a linear operation taking place at HEB ISD.

“Students are part of the whole band program,”Chandler said. “The junior high kids know who they are going to work with in the future, and it keeps the dropout rate down considerably.”

Chandler will work with Earnhart, who coincidentally was the band director for state and national band champions, L.D. Bell, at HEB ISD from 1998-2009 while Chandler was at Arlington ISD.

During that time frame, Earnhart increased enrollment at L.D. Bell by 50 percent.

Earnhart’s goal is to ultimately have 1,800 students enrolled in band throughout the Arlington school district.

Head band directors from junior high and high schools will do site visits with head directors at HEB junior high schools starting in December.

“As good stewards of a public school we could not stand idle,” he said.