The sound of a dozen bows scraping across violin strings seeps out of the band hall and into the corridors at Cross Timbers Intermediate School. Inside a dozen wiggly fifth-graders sit up straight in their chairs, foreheads puckered in concentration as they do their best to pick out the chords for “Hot Cross Buns.”
The youngsters are the first wave of the Mansfield school district’s orchestra program. This year the district made orchestra part of the elective rotation for fifth-graders, adding it into the mix with art, band, choir, technology and science exploratory. The students get six weeks in each elective so they decide which they would like to pursue in the sixth grade.
“I’m teaching them almost everything I would teach in sixth grade, only condensed,” said Amara Jackson, who teaches orchestra at Cross Timbers and Donna Shephard intermediate schools. “It’s a quick crash course on how to hold the bow, use the bow, take care of the instrument and play together.”
Orchestra has been a long time coming, but something that Russ Sanders, the director of fine arts, has wanted since he arrived in the district in 2004. He chose to implement the program one year at a time, starting with the fifth-graders and adding a grade each year.
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“The goal was to expose kids to what it would be like if that’s the elective they choose going into sixth grade,” Sanders said.
“I’ve had some parents that are really excited,” he said. “A lot of folks have wanted to see this for a long time.”
After only five weeks, these fifth-graders are performing pretty well, Jackson says.
“Kids tend to surprise me, they always blow my socks off,” Jackson said.
She can tell the ones who are likely to choose orchestra and be in her sixth-grade class next year.
“Their eyes are so attentive, their eyes never leave me,” she said. “They are so technical about it, so careful. I see this little violin glow on their face.”
The fifth-graders start out with the violin, but will be able to choose from the violin, viola, cello or double bass when they move on to sixth-grade, Jackson explained.
LaRon Brown already has his eye on the cello.
“It’s my style,” said the Cross Timbers fifth-grader. “I like the way it sounds. It sounds like the My Singing Monsters video game I play.”
Alexis Benitez prefers the violin -- for now.
“I like the violin because it keeps you distracted,” she said. “It is hard, but you get used to it.”
Benitez is glad to be able to take orchestra, since the program wasn’t available to her older brother.
“When I was little, I always dreamed about being a professional,” Benitez said.
Jackson thinks orchestra helps even the students who wind up not choosing it as an elective.
“They don’t have to be musicians,” she said. “Their determination can help them in anything they choose to do.”