Music Participation Off the Charts for DMPS Students

Over the past five years, participation has increased 45% in instrumental music and 123% in vocal music at DMPS.

Over the past four years, participation has increased 45% in instrumental music and 123% in vocal music at DMPS.

STEM is an educational buzzword these days and understandably so. An increasingly technological economy requires more workers trained in science, technology, engineering and math. But STEAM, with an A for Arts, is powering more and more students in this generation and DMPS, contrary to the perceptions of many, is an increasingly artsy district, even as it too ratchets up the emphasis in STEM-related areas of study.

A presentation at a recent School Board meeting by Matt Smith, Chief of Schools; Noelle Tichy, Executive Director of Teaching & Learning; Sarah Dougherty, Visual Arts Coordinator; and Ryan Rowley, Fine and Performing Arts Coordinator included some startling numbers on participation levels in arts programs.

“Over the last four years, Des Moines Public Schools has made a concerted effort to increase the enrollment of students into the music programs in Des Moines Public Schools. To this end, Des Moines Public Schools has increased allocation of resources to purchasing and repairing instruments, hiring staff, and specializing teachers in a field of study in order to meet student needs. Because of these efforts, enrollment has increased in music programs,” read an introduction to their report.

And how! Never before has the district made so much music.

Enrollments in vocal music programs have more than doubled in three years, from 5,716 in 2012-13 to 12,766 this year.

Participation among two demographic subgroups in particular exploded. The number of African American students went from 363 to 1,418. Among Hispanic/Latino students the growth was even more dramatic, from 211 to 1,565, a more than seven-fold increase.

Enrollment in instrumental music has also increased dramatically, from 3,893 students to 5,653 over the same period. In 2012-13, 25% of instrumental student-musicians were Black or Latino. This year they comprise 35% of the

The rise in music participation at DMPS corresponds with a similar increase in the visual arts, too. One example is the annual DMPS Student Art Exhibit which opened last week, which featured the works of 734 students, up from 272 in 2012, or an increase of 270%.

Donations of instruments by the Des Moines Public Schools Foundation has been one of the factors in removing barriers to participation and allowing minority students to get involved in greater numbers at an earlier age.

Another contributing factor is the Turnaround Arts cohort of schools in the Northside feeder pattern where arts integration throughout the curriculum is not only boosting overall academic achievement but also boosting turnout for arts-based extracurricular programs.

Commenting on the report, Superintendent Dr. Tom Ahart pointed out that arts education ripples throughout a child’s development and learning.

“We’re not necessarily trying to produce musicians and painters,” he said. “This is about producing rounded, whole students. Arts are not a nice-to-have, they’re a need-to-have. And, by the way, they’re very collaborative and a great way for children to learn and understand one another’s cultures,” something that’s vital in a district as diverse as this one.

Dr. Ahart also said the numbers should help to dispel a misconception that he sometimes perceives in the community.

“People think we have cut the arts and it just isn’t true,” he said.

Targeted personnel adjustments at particular schools sometimes happen in response to enrollment trends or tightened building staff allocations required by inadequate state funding of education, but districtwide the arts are more robust than ever before.

And don’t look now but music participation is about to get another big boost. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the 2019 DMPS High School Music Department trip to Orlando, Florida!

Needless to say, many, many details are still to be arranged and shared for an adventure that is still three years away but it will happen and promises to involve hundreds of DMPS students in a shared experience unlike any that most of them have ever previously enjoyed.

This trip will be for students currently in grades 6-9 who will be in high school in March, 2019. Bands, orchestras, choirs – all high school music programs will be eligible.

Roosevelt Director of Bands Treg Marcellus, East/Roosevelt Orchestra Director Jennifer Luft, North Choir Director Vanessa Brady and Rowley are the planning committee.

Marcellus and his counterpart at Lincoln, Kevin Stegemann, got to talking about a grand scheme to take the whole district to Disney World. Both have taken groups from their own schools many times in the past but they were brainstorming ways to invite and involve all of the high schools.

“It has never been done before in DMPS and from talking to Disney and other travel companies it is something they have never seen,” said Marcellus.

Marcellus’s idea is that the economy of scale would allow smaller ensembles at schools that might not otherwise have such an opportunity to get on board – literally.

“This many students will allow us to make the trip more affordable for students,” he said.

Some implications of the trip logistics are already clear. “We will have to charter a whole feet of busses,” said Rowley, “and stagger our departures and meal stops to avoid overloading facilities in different towns.”

Brace yourself, Florida. Three years from now, DMPS is coming to your shores – in waves!

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