By Sarah Williams
Students in Watertown are excelling in the music world, from elementary to high school Watertown is hitting all the high notes nationally.
The Watertown Unified School District is being recognized by the NAMM Foundation for outstanding commitment to music education with a Best Communities for Music Education designation.
Watertown is one of 307 school districts across the nation to receive the designation this year.
In its 14th year, Best Communities for Music Education affirms school districts that have demonstrated exceptional efforts toward maintaining music education as a part of the schools’ core curriculum. The NAMM Foundation is a nonprofit organization with the mission of advancing active participation in music making across the country by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving and public service programs from the international music products industry.
The Best Communities for Music Education survey requires districts to answer detailed questions about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program and community music programs. Responses were reviewed by the Institute for Education Research and Public Service.
DeWayne Roberson, band director and music department team leader, commented, “From kindergarten through 12th grade, music plays a key role in the lives of our students, not only in the day-to-day music classroom experience, but also in overall scholastic success and social integration developed through music learning.”
Roberson said of the school district receiving an award of this caliber reaffirms the fact that music needs to be a part of a student’s core curriculum.
The Best Communities for Music Education Designation is an important part of the NAMM Foundation’s efforts to advocate for schools based music education. Studies show that learning to play music can boost other academic and social skills including group cooperation. Roberson said he believes that is true. He said children sometimes learn to get over stage fright and performing in front of other people when they are involved in music classes.
The school district offers broad-spectrum music programs including general music classes and chorus for all elementary school students; band, choir, orchestra and general music for all Riverside Middle School students; multiple bands, choirs, orchestras, music technology classes, guitar classes, and advanced music theory and history at the high school level. The music program is open to all students, no matter what level of experience. Students in middle and high school are also able to attend their music class every day of the week.
Roberson said, “Being designated on the list of Best Communities for Music Education is an exciting reaffirmation of the quality music programming happening in our school district at all levels.”
The Watertown Unified School District also makes a big commitment to music education. Roberson says music costs the district about $500,000 a year including staff salaries.
“With the way state funding and taxes have gone, the school board has to make cuts in various places, but we can’t cut out the whole core curriculum. At the same time our music and technology classes are very valuable. Some kids are going into these fields, other kids, they have no idea what they are doing after high school, and these types of programs help students make those decisions and give them a more broad based experience.”
The NAMM Foundation award also recognizes the commitment the district makes to the music department.
School Superintendent Cassandra Schug said she recently was able to see the Riverside Middle School production of “Pirates of Penzance.” She commented, “We are fortunate to have an outstanding and dedicated music staff, tremendous opportunities for our students from kindergarten through 12th grade. I have no doubt that our music program is one of the best in the state, and I am proud to be a part of a district that allows all of our students opportunities to excel in all of their talent areas and offers state of the art programming.”
Roberson says the program has been strong since the 1960s. His only concern is if the department loses anymore teachers, they will soon be cutting programming. That is one thing the district tries not to do, he said.
There is also a lot of community support for the music department. The Parent Music Club, Quirk Foundation and the Darcey Foundation all helped raise funds for the new band uniforms for the high school. The parent club raised $25,000 for the uniforms which in total cost $105,000. There are also a number of community bands in Watertown that the NAMM Foundation took into consideration during the application process.
Another unique opportunity the music department offers is a music technology class which has been going strong for 13 years. Other schools tell Roberson they are looking to Watertown to develop their music technology classes. In these classes students learn how to make music through technology which includes composing and arranging.
“We are one of the few schools who have a dedicated lab for music technology, which our class guitar uses as well,” Roberson said.
Jake Reyburn, a senior, said he has had the opportunity to learn to play many instruments in his classes and in his spare time, including the guitar, trumpet, trombone and even ukulele. He also commented that many of the groups he is involved in have something to do with music.
He said, “Within the music program it teaches each student how to lead and maybe how to follow, and everybody compromises and works together to create that final effect.”