Elementary School Band Programs Struggle To Survive

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Thanks to a pair of retirees, the sounds of music will still emanate from two of Payson's three elementary schools.

The district's instrumental band program was in danger of being dropped at the elementary level this school year due to a combination of circumstances.

But Ardyth Potter and Gail Gorry, principals at Julia Randall and Frontier elementary schools, found members of the community willing to step in and take over the band programs at their respective schools.

Greg Larkins, a retired teacher who taught music at Payson High School, and Robert Tarrallo, a retired musician who plays a number of instruments, will be running instrumental band programs at the two elementary schools. So far, Payson Elementary Principal Roy Sandoval has been unable to find anybody to teach band at his school.

The threat to the music programs began two years ago, when longtime elementary school music teacher Ilene Gonzales died. While she was paid to teach 20 hours a week, she easily put in 40, according to Mike Buskirk, music teacher at Rim Country Middle School.

"Ilene was doing half of it for pay and the other half for free," Buskirk said. "When she died, Ron Sandlier stepped in and took over the strings part, but what they should have done was put somebody in there full time. The money was there."

Instead, Buskirk and Larry Potvin, Payson High School music teacher, tried to take on the three elementary schools in addition to their regular schedules.

"We just couldn't cover it using our own personnel," Gorry said. "It became a scheduling problem, and it put too many demands on Mike and Larry who had to give up all their prep time."

"I did FES during my prep hour," Potvin said. "Mike Buskirk, bless his heart, was doing JRE and PES. I felt we needed to get the position filled."

When Potvin and Buskirk decided they couldn't continue to carry the extra load, the three elementary principals were told the future of instrumental band at their schools would depend on whether they could find replacements. Credit for Kids money can be used to pay the volunteers something.

At JRE, band will be offered after school, but Gorry found a way to fit it into the school day.

"We're doing it four days a week, 45 minutes a day, and we're doing it during the school day," Gorry said. "It's as important to me as math and reading."

Potvin agreed.

"We have to educate the public that band and choir and orchestra, performing arts, fine arts, visual arts are just as important as core courses like the sciences, English and histories," he said.

Wes Hathaway, owner of Payson Music, said losing the elementary band program would close a window of opportunity.

"They can't wait until sixth grade to start band," Hathaway said. "That's too late. A lot of kids that age are past those years where they're excited about playing an instrument. They're getting involved in other things in middle school."

Not starting band until middle school also impacts the quality of the program, Buskirk said.

Some school districts have dropped music completely, Herb Weissenfels, PUSD superintendent, said.

"We're trying to keep it alive if at all possible," he said. "We still have the full strings program, vocal music, the secondary bands. I'm very happy that we can keep some semblance of bands in the elementaries. Mr. Sandoval is doing his best to find someone for PES."

Anyone with band experience interested in volunteering can call 474-2070.

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