Symphony in San Antonio
By Doug Sellers with Jerry Carstensen
Snip! The ribbon parted and fell to the ground, cleanly cut by a dozen pairs of scissors. Applause and confetti filled the evening air, replacing the mariachi music heard moments earlier. The dedication ceremony for the new Center for Music Education at Brackenridge High School was the culmination of years of hard work.
The center was the first of eight such facilities to open in 2005, one for each high school in the San Antonio Independent School District. Given its scope and the grassroots effort that made it a reality, this impressive arts construction project symbolizes a new beginning and new opportunities for San Antonio’s students.
I first discovered our district music program a decade earlier, when my youngest daughter played in the high school band. When my career allowed time for volunteering, I joined the high school band boosters. As with any volunteer activity, the more you do, the deeper your involvement becomes, and I woke up one morning as the group’s president.
In that role, I learned about the many benefits of fine arts in education. According to Hector Ponce, the district’s arts coordinator at the time, students in cocurricular activities like the arts perform better on standardized tests, have more consistent school attendance, volunteer more, and are more likely to develop into community leaders than those who don’t participate in the arts and other cocurricular activities.
Before long, I found myself at the forefront of Citizens for Better Bands, a districtwide group that focused initially on building music instruments into the district’s budget. We did our homework, surveyed other districts by phone, and learned we were spending less on instruments per student than the poorest districts in Texas. Some of our students’ instruments were held together with paper clips, toothpicks, or rubber bands. We presented our findings to the school board, including evidence on how music students excel academically with fewer discipline problems. The board responded by adding a line item for instrument replacement.
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