Elementary School Bands More Than Double This Year

At the morning band practice at Carver Elementary School, instructor Thomas Simpson deviated from having the entire ensemble play together and instead worked with each instrumental group on their parts. After the trumpets played, Simpson asked them to play it again but also had the clarinets join.
The row of young clarinet players excitedly whispered “Yes!” as kids do when rewarded with something. For Simpson, who also is the school’s music teacher, those are the moments educators relish.
“It’s kind of a fun way to start the day,” he said about before-school band practice. “They’re already having fun.”
Simpson has fun with it, too. The second-year teacher at Carver also leads the band and orchestra at Valentine Elementary School. He started instructing the extracurricular band kids there last year, too, eventually leading them to the well-received concert in January.
“I just think last year went so well,” he said. “We had a big concert. Parents were excited. Kids were excited.”
In fact, it went well enough to open the door for 4th-grade students to participate in band and that, combined with increased enrollment from the other grades, has boosted the program from 62 band students and 14 string players to 156 band students and 19 string players.
“This year, we may not be able to [hold the concert],” Simpson admitted. “There’s not a facility that can fit us all.”
Carver went from 33 band kids to a whopping 98, necessitating the need to separate those students into different classes. Valentine saw a respectable growth from 29 to 58 band members.
All of the string students are at Valentine, although there is an electric bass player at Carver.
Simpson said the Huntington Middle School stage would not accommodate the group this year, and there would have to be a search for another location for the January concert.
“We barely fit on the middle school stage [last time],” he said. “Either we need to find another venue to do it — maybe the high school — or we may have to do separate performances.”
Just as impressive to Simpson was the fact that, to his estimate, he saw a 10% increase from his elementary school band students who went to Huntington Middle School this year, meaning most have continued playing in 6th grade. Simpson called his coordination with Huntington’s program a “vertical integration” within the San Marino Unified School District.
Also new this year is a website for the schools’ band students, from which they can find links to where they can buy or rent instruments as well as complementary material such as music books. It also links them to outside private tutors, which Simpson encourages.
Valentine Elementary Principal Colleen Shields praised the program for providing additional music education for students that doesn’t interfere with the current school day.
“We are really blessed to have outstanding music teachers in our district,” she said.
Carver Elementary Principal Michael Lin said students seem to respond to Simpson’s teaching well and thanked the local Parent Teacher Association for helping to fund the system’s “unique luxury.”
“It’s a reflection of what the parents value in our enrichment activities,” he said.
Looking forward, next year will be key as Simpson advances the band program.
“The real question will be who continues on from 4th to 5th grade?” he said. “That’ll be the litmus test.”

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