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Niagara-Wheatfield students push for program restoration

Fri, Jan 30th 2015 05:45 pm

by Autumn Evans

Members of the Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District's music program again pleaded their case before the school board last Wednesday in the hopes of having cut programs restored this budget season.

Eighth-grader Surjit Arnone began playing saxophone in grade school. As a child with asthma, it was meant to improve his respiratory health but quickly became a passion.

"I really loved being able to make my own art, to create something and bring something new, and that's what music is about," Surjit said. "I understand that we have to make a lot of cuts and sacrifices in order to keep up with our changing budget, but music is really important."

He cited its use in other school subjects, saying, as an example, his knowledge of music time made learning fractions in fourth grade easy.

"I know I probably just sound like one of who-knows-how-many other students that are saying this or doing that, with this reason, that reason, but it's important, and I care a lot," Surjit said. "And I hope that really, sometime, someday, with a lot of work, maybe we can bring our budget back; make the music program better."

For 10th-grader Jillian Arnone, the bands she played trombone in became another family for her, especially after she was in a car accident last year, during which she sustained a traumatic brain injury.

She said listening to music helped her succeed in both therapy and home schooling and sped up her return to high school.

"When I returned to half-days, I was glad to be back, but it was when I was able to play in the bands that I felt like I was where I belonged. It was like a family reunion," Jillian said. "I was finally able to play the music I love and I truly felt like I was with my musical family. ... I felt home. Those bands were my family, and still are."

The Arnones' mother, Beatrice Singh-Arnone, spoke after her children, reinforcing the importance music, and the music program, had on her family.

"The personal relationships, invaluable experience and important lessons that my kids have learned will impact them throughout their lives," she said.

She added, "I'm not here to tell you that one program or group is more important than another. ... As I speak to you about the music program today, it's not to say that it should be given special preference. I only hope that you will give the music program the consideration it deserves."

Another parent, Karen Anderson, also spoke about the effect the music program had on her own son, Matthew, a high school senior.

"This past fall he was filling out his college applications, and he chose the writing prompt to describe a place that's special to him and give details why," she said. "He chose the music wing at the high school as his special place. He went on to further describe it was the place he felt accepted, inspired and challenged. He concluded his essay by saying that, 'sometimes you don't find the place, the place finds you,' and that he never dreamt walking down that wing his freshmen year, that it would then become his inspiration to become a music teacher."

Anderson said Matthew was accepted into SUNY Fredonia in December, but to get into the school's music department, he had to fill out more paperwork. One of the additional questions was about music classes he had taken, other than performance ensembles.

"He said, 'Mom, what am I supposed to put there?' And I said, 'Put an asterisk, because last spring, you were enrolled in three that weren't able to be provided this year' (due to budget cuts)," she said. "Now, I understand all the reasons for that, but it didn't help in this particular situation. I'm hoping beyond hope that doesn't come back to hurt his ambition."

Anderson asked the board to consider restoring part of the program, adding she hoped this wasn't "the end of an era where Niagara-Wheatfield was known for having an esteemed and valuable music department."

In other school board news:

•Danny Maerten, Niagara-Wheatfield Kiwanis Club liaison to the K-Kids clubs at the West Street, Colonial Village and Errick Road elementary schools, invited the board to attend any K-Kids events. He also requested the board consider implementing a middle school Builders Club so the K-Kids graduates can continue to work on their leadership skills.

"They get out of elementary school and they're all - to use the old phrase - gung-ho, ready to go, and there's nothing for them to follow through," Maerten said. He asked the board to contact him to discuss it further.

•The SHS/Interact, Native American and Pep clubs and National Honor Society will host a "Valentine's Day Extravaganza" for seniors in the community Thursday, Feb. 12, in the Adult Learning Center. The event is "an opportunity for the students of Niagara-Wheatfield to say 'Thank you' for those that support us."

•Sanborn resident RoseMary Warren presented the board with documents she received after filing a Freedom of Information Law request for information regarding the finance report given to the board by Rick Timbs earlier in the month.

"Today I paid $2 for these pages - nothing about Dr. Timbs, nothing about his report. These are all figures from Bernard Donegan from Victor, New York," she said. Warren said she also wanted to hear any additional comments Timbs made to the board, to which she was told the entire meeting was recorded and available online. She responded she did not have a computer, and even if she were to get a DVD copy of the meeting, she did not have any device to play it on. After speaking, she tore up the pages she was given and threw them in the garbage, saying, "I guess this is what I think of it."

Later, board president Steven Sabo told her Bernard Donegan is the consulting firm Timbs works for, and the report she received was the one presented to the board. She was also advised public libraries have both computers and Internet connectivity. Board member Amy Deull offered to share her own notes from the meeting with Warren, but Warren refused, saying she would prefer to air her grievances on a public television show she expects to appear on in March.

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