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Rebuilding Elementary School Band Class After the Pandemic

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Surrounded by the walls of the classroom, decorated with colorful violins and music theory posters, Roshan Reddy was among the three. He raised his palm, a shiny horn and a chorus of woodwinds came back to life, and the first sound of Adele’s “Easyon Me” filled the bandroom of PS11 Elementary School in Brooklyn.

Almost all students were laughing, despite the clarinet squeaks and the occasional fraudulent saxophone barks.

It’s been a long two years for Lady’s 4th and 5th grade band students, and for music teachers and their students all over New York City. According to educators and experts, when the Covid-19 pandemic closed the school, PS 11’s music program struggled to move online and children’s music during some of the most important years of music development. It was one of many programs that interrupted the referral.

PS11 students who had musical instruments at home were practicing in the living room, emergency stairs, and grandparents’ basement. However, many had left the instrument behind and colleagues had to watch over from bystanders as they tried to keep each other’s time on Google Meet.

Fifth grade diara Brent, an up-and-coming saxophonist, was disappointed that he didn’t take his saxophone home in the turmoil of school closures. “I didn’t have an instrument, so I was crazy typing into the chat,” she said. “I just heard their performance. I couldn’t do anything.”

Now that the PS 11 band students are back in the classroom, they are rediscovering their confidence as musicians. But filling the holes in the lost instructions has never been an easy task. “Covid has wiped out my program,” said Reddy, the school’s band director. “Not all students are back as they used to be.”

The pandemic interrupted many elementary school music teachers at a crucial moment — in the year when their brains were just beginning to make a “sound-to-meaning” connection. According to a New York City Department of Education school report, public schools in New York City saw a 11% reduction in primary school music instruction, which had been stable for five years, between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 years.

Pandemic school closures were particularly devastating for students whose access to music education was only through public schools. But research also suggests that music can help children rebuild what was lost.

Abidemi Hope, the principal of PS11, said that attending a music program at school will enable students to acquire skills that go beyond academic preparation, such as improving listening and speaking, learning questions, and discovering complexities. Said. It also provides students in economically diverse schools with access to music regardless of their financial situation.

“Everyone must at least have the opportunity to touch the instrument, learn it, understand it, and play it,” she said.

When Hope was appointed principal in 2014, the school was academically focused, the music program was small, and there were about 40 students. “I always wanted to change that,” she said.

Hope hired active musician Roshan Reddy in 2018 to be the full-time music director for her band program. He has already spent two years as a substitute teacher for the New York State Department of Education, teaching in almost every region. In Brooklyn, but he was impressed with Principal Hope’s vision for a music program.

“Principal Hope is always trying to do something new,” Lady said. “If you think you’ve reached the limit, Hope seems to need to make it a little higher.”

By the end of Lady’s first year, classes for stringed instruments, guitar and ukulele were added. “Before it was really chosen,” Lady said. “When I came in, I didn’t mean to say no to anyone.”

The size of the program has been quadrupled and supported by a combination of school and PTA funding. At the final concert in the spring of 2019, students from a lively music program played for three hours. “People who have played before started to leave by the end of it because it was so long. They were like’I have to go home’,” Lady said with a laugh.

The PS11 2020 class was unable to hold the final concert. When the school was closed in March, Lady wrapped the wires, tied up the classroom chairs, untuned the violin, disinfected the instrument, and packed it in the bandroom closet for storage.

Virtual education was challenging. “It was a nightmare at first,” Reddy said. He spent hours creating video recording assignments for students to upload to Google Classroom. During the summer, he searched YouTube for ideas to enhance the curriculum.

The following year, each music student received a recorder or ukulele to play in class. The students used the Chrome Music Lab to create a song and submit it as an assignment. But there was nothing compared to being in a physical classroom, and some students stopped attending, Lady said.

Julian Sanon started out as one of Lady’s sophomore violin students. He did not attend music classes online during the pandemic. Instead, he, his dad, and his brother played music together at home, even forming a family band that lasted for a week. However, Sanon was absent from a face-to-face music class at school. There he was able to make more complex arrangements with his friends on the drum line.

Now that school is back, “everyone around you is connected with the same music,” Sanon said back to one of his favorite places, Lady’s music room.

“Yeah,” he chimed at Miles Dutra, another fifth grader on the drum line. “Because you have to play in harmony. If one person messes up, everyone messes up.”

Sanon nodded. “So when you understand it correctly, it’s kind of like peace,” he said.

Budget cuts may force some schools to reassess their arts programs next year. School budgets are generally related to the number of students enrolled, and many schools will decline next year after the total number of students in New York City’s public schools has declined by 6.4% since the start of the pandemic.

Elizabeth Guglielmo, music director at New York Public School, said music was hit hard during the pandemic, but art is essential to the process of reintegration. “It’s always our hope that it’s seen as a core subject,” Guglielmo said.

In PS 11, Hope said the number of registrants dropped by nearly 3% between this year and the previous year. Hope said he may need to rely heavily on PS11’s relatively large PTA budget. He funded his music program. “I hope the mayor can rethink how we invest in our children,” she said.

At the end of the final grade of elementary school, 10-year-old percussionist Zaire Johnson, who made his own drums from paperboard in his apartment during a pandemic, can be found on Thursday by practicing a drum line with a shiny aluminum harness. I can do it. The number of drums on his shoulder.

Johnson loves to keep all the instruments in the classroom at hand. “You can try conga, violin, piano, djembe, and ukulele,” he said. One of the instruments he doesn’t recommend is the cello, but he added that he loves “picking up the guitar and starting playing.” “It’s calm to me.”

Johnson watches a taiko instruction video on YouTube in the evening at home and learns new percussion techniques using the scene from the 2002 movie “Drumline”.

Lady acknowledges his early enthusiasm as a musician when he grew up on a rural farm in Delaware. “Music was my best friend,” he said.

At school, music has instilled confidence and made it possible to participate in classes socially without using words. It now does the same for his quiet students. “Children really find their voice through music in ways that nothing else could do,” he said.

As PS 11’s 2022 5th grade class is preparing to graduate this month, some of Reddy’s students have already accepted placements in junior high schools with specialized music programs. The goal of the band program is to prepare students for more challenging music instruction. But most of the time, Reddy wants his kids to leave the music-loving school.

“It’s not about trying to make a small Mozart, it’s about students finding their own strength,” he said. “We are the people who have to carry music throughout this moment.”

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