We were given permission to share with you this letter from one of our Upper Darby parents. Consider writing your own letter or speaking to your school administrators about any concerns you may have in regards to valuable “specials” teaching time in your school. Speak up and be heard!
Dear Dr. Dunlap and Dr. McGarry,
I am a parent of a 3rd grader at Highland Park and a 6th grader at Beverly Hills Middle School. I intended to attend tonight’s Board Meeting to support Rachel Brown’s presentation, but unfortunately did not make it in time for her testimony. I would like to submit this email instead to echo her sentiments and to provide parent perspective on the matter of scheduling and time spent on instructional minutes. I strongly urge the District to do everything possible to ensure that our students have access to the types of choral and music experiences that Rachel and her colleagues provide during the school day. Poor standardized test scores are not a reason to curtail student access to these programs.
A few years ago, I was very active in the community action to preserve the quality of art, music, and physical education specials in district elementary schools. I am thankful we were able to keep our specialists, but disappointed that the district has still not restored the number of minutes that children originally had in these specials. I was saddened to see, as a result of the upheaval, many of the talented specialists in my children’s own schools decide to move on or take other opportunities in the district that seemed to give them better job security and opportunity to teach their specialities.
Today, I understand that there is concern in the administration that parents are dismayed about district PSSA scores. In response to this concern (and others), I understand that the district has hired the District Management Council to maximize efficiency in scheduling, both from a fiscal and time management viewpoint. At a recent PTO meeting at Highland Park, Dr. Dunlap assured parents that the arts and music would not be negatively affected by the council’s decisions. It’s wearying that I still feel the need to defend the value of these essential programs to my children’s education.
Quite frankly, I feel my children have enough minutes devoted to the “core” tested subjects of language arts, math, and science, especially since the district is so test-prep focused. They are over-assessed. The price is that instruction suffers. Between PBIS and MAP testing at the middle school, my daughter did not start to really receive math instruction or homework until the fourth week of school. That is ridiculous. My son, who received 100s on all his unit math tests, got a Basic on his report card because of the District’s need to use the end of the year benchmark at the beginning of the year as a pre-test in order to show-off “progress” that the students will gain by the end of the year. It was disheartening and a misrepresentation of his level of achievement.
Enter music lessons and the other related specials. It is the one time of day where something is not taught for “the test”. Rather, the teachers of these arts teach their students so they can develop a life-long love and appreciation for these arts. We know already that children who play musical instruments are more likely to be successful students, not only because music strengthens the parts of the brain required for creative thinking and multi-tasking, but also because it develops discipline, perseverance, and social awareness.
I know you are familiar with these arguments already. Not allowing students to have music lessons during the “core subjects” will not fix the district’s red scores. It will pit music teachers against classroom teachers, creating dischord and mistrust. It will severely hamper the District’s ability to maintain the excellence of its music programs and alienate parents and students who will wonder why they should stay in a district that continually devalues what they love most about the schools here.
I love Upper Darby schools. My children are receiving a good education in Highland Park and Beverly Hills. (Although, I do wish there was more homework in the middle school!) Teachers of the core subjects work so hard to prepare students for these high stakes tests. They do a good job of teaching eligible content. But I wish they had a little bit more freedom to teach things outside of the test.
I also really value the things that the state will never recognize or award points for in its PSSA and PVAAS data. I value the District’s long and storied emphasis on music, theater, and the arts. I celebrate the triumph of our musical groups as they continue to receive accolades at the regional, state, and national levels. I love the diversity among our student body and the high population of immigrant families we boast. These are the reasons why we stay. And these are the reasons why we fight so hard to maintain the unique assets of this District and community. There is nowhere like Upper Darby in this region.
Please continue to prioritize the arts in your short and long-range planning. Defend them. The state will not, so you must.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
241 Highland Ave.
Upper Darby, PA 19082