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Bloomington Junior High Adjusts To Give Music Students More Options

Girl seated on couch with an art display
Sheila Snyder's daughter Reini will be going into sixth grade in the fall. Snyder said Reini loves chorus and art.

Bloomington Junior High School changed its schedule next year to allow more time for social and emotional learning. Some parents feel the move forced their children to make an unfair choice too soon in their educational path.

District 87 then made some adjustments.

Sheila Snyder said she moved from Unit 5 into District 87 last month because she heard Bloomington Junior High had strong music and arts programs. Snyder considered that a perfect fit for her daughter, Reini. She is going into sixth grade in the fall.

Snyder said Reini loves to sing, but art is her passion.

“She loves to draw. She loves to paint. She loves to create characters online. That is her driving interest in the class,” Snyder said.

Two weeks ago, Snyder learned District 87 made a major schedule change: If a student was taking band, orchestra or chorus, other electives in the district’s Arts For Life program were off limits. That includes classes like digital media, computer applications and foreign languages.

Snyder said her daughter had a choice.

“Would you rather do art or would you rather sing? Her question was, ‘Why do I have to choose? I thought one of the reasons we moved into District 87 was so I could have both of those things.’ She is very upset about that,” Snyder said.

Other parents raised similar concerns. Erin Furimsky's daughter Harper plays the trombone. She's going into seventh grade. Her son Asa is in high school and sang in the chorus when he was as BJHS.

Furimsky said students in junior high need time to explore, adding the district's plan took that away.

“If you participate in the music program, you will never get to take a visual arts class all of junior high. You will never get to take a computer class all of junior high,” Furimsky said. “It’s too young for these kids to make those choices.”

Diane Wolf is assistant superintendent of curriculum for District 87. She said the changes were two years in the making.

She said the problem with the junior high schedule was music programs are held during the first period. That's the same time set aside for students to get additional help with their schoolwork.

Wolf said that forced many students to make a difficult choice.

“If they needed interventions, if they needed help in a class, they were either pulled from their music program or they didn’t receive that additional help,” Wolf explained.

Diane Wolf closeup
District 87
Diane Wolf

Wolf said the district wanted to make that extra instruction time available to everyone during homeroom time at the start of the day. The district also wanted to make class periods longer (50 minutes) to match the high school schedule. That's why music was added to Arts for Life.

The move upset dozens of parents with kids in the music program. More than 70 BJHS parents formed a private Facebook group, adopting the phrase "Music and, not music or” and they plotted strategies to seek change.

About a dozen parents spoke out at a recent District 87 school board meeting.

Girl standing in front of door in band costume
Lauren Lowell's daughter Lila poses for a photo when she was in Bloomington Junior High band in the eighth grade.

Lauren Lowell is one of the parents who organized the movement. She also has two children in band, a daughter, Lila, and a son, Eliot.

Lowell said limiting students access to music defeats the purpose of adding more time for social and emotional learning.

“I think what really sparked our frustration was the social-emotional value of music and the other electives was being downplayed,” Lowell said.

One week later, the district made changes.

Wolf said now students who want to stay in music and keep another Arts for Life course, can take an early phys-ed class at 7:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the regular school day starts.

Lowell said that's a better solution.

“I am thrilled. My son is thrilled. My high school daughter is happy for her brother. I take it as a win that they heard us, they valued our opinions and they made a change,” Lowell said.

But the change didn't satisfy all music parents. Melanie Johnson has two children in band, one in seventh grade and one in high school. She said she feared some junior high students may be intimidated to ride the bus with high school students every morning.

“My sixth-grader getting on a bus with juniors and seniors, we’ve all seen the movies, we know how bullying goes,” Johnson said. “Even if it’s separated seating, it doesn’t make me comfortable.”

Johnson said she also doesn't like that music students will have an extra 30 minutes in school.

Many parents also raised concern that they know so little about the additional homeroom time. How structured will it be? But Johnson said she appreciates school administrators were willing to listen and adapt.

Wolf said the expanded schedule to accommodate band will require additional staffing to cover the earlier start, but she said it was important that the district come up with a workable solution.

“That’s part of being a public school system,” Wolf said. “Obviously, although we did not anticipate that, we welcomed it because it showed what was important to our families.”

Wolf added the district has to make sure all of its instruction is accessible to all of its students.

The district said homeroom time to start each day will include lessons and activities for social and emotional learning. Students also will have other options, including getting help with their schoolwork, exploring personal interests, and building social skills.

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Corrected: May 21, 2021 at 3:28 PM CDT
WGLT corrected the third photo which had misidentified the student in BJHS band.
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