2011-12-10 / News

Arts Council, Foundation Step In To Ensure School Programs

By Karen Gould

Collin Armstrong, a junior at Mackinac Island Public School, says music class definitely has broadened the horizon for the 10 students in grades eight through 12 who are taking the class as an elective. Without Heather May’s guidance, he noted, he would have missed out on the joy of being able to play the songs of his favorite artists and the fun of playing the guitar.

“She’s a wonderful teacher and I thank whoever brought us this program because, without it, I’d never be playing any music, that’s for sure,” he said. “It kind of opened a whole new world for me. Being able to play the guitar, it’s just a lot of fun.”

“When I started last year, I had no idea how to play the guitar,” he said. “I was a complete newbie when it came to all of this. Once she got me started, it kind of turned into a passion of mine. It’s something I love to do now. I’m not going to go into music professionally, but I’m definitely going to continue playing it.”

Strapped for money, school administrators were looking for ways to balance the budget in early 2011, and music and art classes likely would have been cut, but both classes were saved by two community organizations that contributed $14,800 to cover the cost of the teacher. The Mackinac Island Community Foundation gave the school $9,800 from its general fund and the Mackinac Island Arts Council gave $2,500 from its cash reserves and another $2,500 it earned from a fundraiser.

“I was looking for innovative ways to stop the drain on our funding,” said Superintendent Dave Waaso. “We didn’t really want to cut arts out of the budget, yet knew that it was an expense that it would be nice if it was covered from someplace else.”

Miss May, who was hired last year to teach music part-time, teaches art and music classes this year to students in kindergarten through 12th grades. The music class has grown from six to 12 students. Art class attendance has remained level with six students in grades nine through 12. Both classes are required to be taken by students in lower grades.

The school has 81 students.

Ms. May became an independent contractor rather than a part-time employee like last year. The move saves the school from paying medical and retirement benefits. This year, she also is teaching art, which previously was taught by Pam Finkel.

“She has kids from all grades,” said Mr. Waaso. “The kids seem to really enjoy the classes and some of the artwork is up in the halls.”

A holiday music program is planned at the school at 7 p.m. Wednesday, December 14.

“We told the school this would be a one-time thing,” said Robin Dorman, executive director of the community foundation. “We feel the programs are important and the school really needs to work hard to find a way to finance them.”

The foundation board believed it was important to support the school’s efforts and the increase in students taking the class in just one year shows what a difference the course has made, said Mr. Dorman.

“It’s a huge investment in the community and a huge investment in the kids’ education, and we felt it important to help the school continue the classes during their shortfall,” he said.

Other communities have performing arts organizations or larger schools that are able to offer music programs, said Becki Barnwell, president of the arts council.

“What the teachers do in our school with plays, and now music, is really incredible because they have very few resources,” she said. “I think they are doing quite a bit for the kids, but I think if we can help them by getting another teacher that is specific to those classes, if one kid shows that music made his life more enjoyable, I think that’s great.”

The arts council tries to serve the needs of the entire community and likely would continue to support the classes, Ms. Barnwell said.

In the past, the Mackinac Arts Council has brought musicians to the Island to play for students, but when teacher Karen Allen suggested the group think about offering students something more, it made sense, said Ms. Barnwell.

“We exposed students to music, but it was a one-shot deal,” said Ms. Barnwell.

Next year without the funding from the community foundation, and without a private donation, the school likely will have to tap into the general education budget, seek grants, use a combination of the two, or it may have to consider eliminating one or both of the classes.

“I don’t want to do that because I think it’s a valuable part of the curriculum,” said Mr. Waaso. “We’ll do our best to try to keep the programs going. I’m thankful that this community values that so much that they would donate the funds to keep them going this year.”

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