Dec. 2016 - All six AISD high school marching bands earned first division recognition at the Region 5 UIL Marching Band Contest in October in Mansfield. The achievement by all six bands was a first for the AISD and attributable in part to the 2014 Bond program.
Not since the late 1990s have all AISD high schools earned superior scores in the same year. But at that time there were only five high schools; Seguin High School had not been built yet.
In the competition, each band performed its halftime show and was scored by a panel of three judges certified through the Texas Music Adjudicators Association. The criteria included tone quality of the instruments, musicianship of the ensemble and marching.
Earning a superior score is not easy.
“It requires a lot of hard work from the directors and students,” said Steve Musser, the executive secretary of the UIL Region 5 Marching Contest and former band director at Lamar High School from 1980 to 2006.
With their first division scores, the 6A AISD bands moved on to the area UIL competition for a chance to advance to state. The bands performed well, with Martin leading the way. Though Martin placed fifth in preliminaries, it narrowly missed advancing to state in the final round.
The superior scores at the regional competition were an incredible achievement for a district looking to improve and expand its fine arts program and a testament to the dedication of its students and teachers.
“Interacting with stakeholders during the 2013-2014 school year, a common theme was expanding student access, opportunity and success through fine arts programming in the Arlington ISD,” said Dr. Jeremy Earnhart, AISD director of fine arts. “The renaissance of traditional enrichment that is happening today is a reaction to the wishes of the community – increasing participation and performance levels, resulting in students being recognized for their achievements by the UIL.”
Structural changes, along with the elimination of instrument fees, have led to growing and improving music programs districtwide. And funds from the 2014 Bond program are ensuring all students have quality instruments and uniforms.
Quality instruments and uniforms are two factors that may have directly contributed to the AISD bands’ success at the UIL competitions. Better instruments – paid for by the bond – help improve the tone quality, one of the criteria in judging, while musicianship of the ensemble takes into account the uniforms, many which have been recently purchased through the bond.
Most importantly, the AISD bands are getting bigger, meaning more students are participating. The elimination of instrument fees has opened music to every student.
“We have kids in town who can’t afford to buy a trumpet but want to be there,” Musser said.
Now these students can be there, thanks to the bond. And they can play the instrument they choose. Previously they might have had to choose from a limited selection of what was available. Now, with the bond, there are enough instruments that students can play the one that interests them most.
The fee elimination and bond funds are clearly working. Participation in secondary band and orchestra is up 16 percent. At Sam Houston High School, for example, the band nearly doubled in size in just one year thanks to a freshman class of about 80.
Sam Houston Assistant Band Director Jillian Adams believes this is just the beginning.
“We hope to continue having freshmen classes of approximately 70-80 students,” she said.
Adams gives credit to the bond, plus an entire cultural shift, for growing band participation. She wrote:
“I believe the success of our program can be attributed to the culture shift in East Arlington. Our principal has helped to create and ensure a culture of success in all of our students. Mr. Fernando Benavides is encouraging and has developed deep connections with the students, parents, staff and community around Sam Houston. Those things coupled with eliminating the instrument use fee has encouraged students to continue participating in music and beginning to believe in themselves. The students show pride in their craft, their school and their background.”
The impact on the students is what the bond program is all about. The UIL recognition is great for the students and schools, but it is a by-product of achieving the goal – not the goal itself.
That goal – the goal of the fine arts department and the bond program – is to provide all students the opportunity to participate in music because it enriches their lives, adds to their educational experience and, according to research, improves their overall academic performance.
“Those students learn how to budget their time and study,” Musser said. “The band builds teamwork, individual character and character as a group.”
It also gives students a place to belong.
“All of our programs are like big families that support each other,” Musser said.
And now they are families that are growing and getting better.
“I guarantee you the bond has really helped,” he said.