Congratulations to ISD 318 for being named by the National Association of Music Merchants a Best Community in Music Education, and for their acknowledgement that it takes support and assistance by the community to make music accessible to all students!

On another note, congratulations is also in order for the recent announcement that the Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) received a $50,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation’s LightSpeed Grant Program to partner with the McPhail Center for Music to implement their McPhail Online program in the Itasca area.

By Nathan Bergstedt Herald-Review

The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), for the past 14 years, has been looking to the educational communities throughout the country which have fostered successive generations of musicians and music lovers. For 2013, ISD 318 in Grand Rapids and Bigfork was one of 307 school districts across the country, and only one of six within the state of Minnesota, to be named a Best Community for Music Education by NAMM.

Whereas the primary focus of the distinction is on the school district itself, with the large focus put on a music education through band and choir, Grand Rapids High School Band Directors Dale Gunderson and Michael Thursby noted that the recognition is truly a community-wide honor, and that the music program at the schools wouldn’t be what it is without community support and assistance.

“The number of students in a normal community that wouldn’t be able to afford a quality music education… they have that opportunity here to be involved.

Other places they may not, and that’s because of the support we have from the district, and the support that we have from outside donors and all of our organizations in town that make that happen,” said Thursby. “In other places, some kids would get turned away, told ‘Sorry, if you can’t pay, you can’t do it.’”

Thursby added, from his own experience teaching in other communities, that he has been very impressed by the community commitment to music education in Grand Rapids over the past few years he’s been teaching at the high school.

“We’ll never turn a kid away because of money,” said Gunderson, saying that the district has instruments on hand for students who can’t afford their own, which have either been purchased or donated to the school by the community.

The overall quality of the music educational in the school, aside from the inclusiveness, include the various opportunities the students, such as the Madrigal Dinner for the choir, and the chances to work with world-renowned musicians for jazz students at the annual Jazz Festival. Outside of directly school-related activities, students also have organizations like the Itasca Symphony Orchestra, the numerous community choirs, and the Reif Center where they can be exposed to all manners of touring performing arts. What’s more, the public performances by the school bands and choirs are always well attended by families and the community at large.

“What [NAMM] is trying to say is ‘You have a great program, we want to congratulate your staff,’ but we couldn’t do a third of what we do without a community that says ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea,’” said Gunderson.

In considering the various aspects of the music program, the high school instructors spoke highly of work done in the elementary schools where students are first being introduced to music. By the time Thursby sees them in sixth grade, he says they can already read music, knowing the different notes on the scale as well as the differences between half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes. And in the fifth grade, which is the final grade before the students can join the middle school band or choir, the ukulele has recently been introduced as a vehicle in which to make music. In its first year of implementation in the class, the small, four-stringed guitar turned out to be an enormous hit with the students, making many of them all the more interested in music.

“I feel so fortunate to teach in a community that is really starting to understand the value of music education. We do a disservice to our childrens’ cognitive, psychomotor, and overall health when we do not offer them classes in physical education, music education, art, and health,” said Betsy Sween, Robert J. Elkington Middle School Choir Director. “These classes have long been thought of as ‘extras,’ or a fun place for the kids to go during their school day. It is now being proven over and over again that these courses are fundamental, not optional curriculum areas. My wish would be that Grand Rapids will some day join many other communities in the U.S. that now recognize the full reach of music’s value.”

ISD 318 will be celebrating the national recognition more appropriately on May 9 with a Celebration of Music Concert at the IRA Civic Center, which will feature every band and choir, grades six through twelve, in the entire district.