[Editor: The following blog is based on the National Public Radio show, “Turning dented band instruments into teaching tools.” AMP interviewed program creator Dr. Jeremy Earnhart, Director of Fine Arts with the Arlington Independent Schools, to learn more.]
AMP: What led you to conceive and launch this instrument repair program for the Arlington schools?
JE: Open district wide to juniors and seniors, the Musical Instrument Repair class is a public-private partnership between Arlington Independent School District and Music & Arts.
The Arlington ISD course, Musical Instrument Repair, will eventually be housed in our Fine Arts Center under the banner of our $663.1 million bond program, which passed by 70% in May 2014. Starting here is important, because Instrument Repair was specifically listed in the bond package which was developed by a citizens task force as part of interrelated K-12 Fine Arts components designed to improve access and excellence for our 63,500 students including: a Fine Arts Center, $9.8 million for instruments/uniforms (concurrently removing the barrier of instrument usage fees), two Fine Arts & Dual Language Elementary Academies, and for each of our 54 elementary schools to have an acoustically appropriate strings classroom. In other words, thinking something up is one thing—creating a comprehensive package, building consensus, and gaining stakeholder support is everything.
My dad was a band director and music administrator, so growing up I had the opportunity to be forced to visit many music repair stores. I remember taking my trumpet to Ray Noguera at Laconia Music on New York’s Long Island. We descended to a basement workshop where each step smelled a little more like old cases, then valve oil, finally solder. He would have an apprentice or two in the shop and while fixing yet another dent on my horn, was also providing on-the-job training to pass on the tricks of the trade. These experiences kind of go in your mind’s back pocket. Fast forward to a conversation on the convention floor of the Texas Music Educators Association with University of North Texas music professor Dennis Fisher that got my wheels turning. We talked about streamlining repair issues (you know, just the thing you go to music school for) and this connected a few more dots. Subsequent discussions with industry professionals revealed that the instrument repair workforce is aging and in a fast-growth state like Texas, there is an employment demand.
Then, I spoke with Vince Chiappone from the Music & Arts Company about teaching instrument repair as part of a public school Fine Arts Center. Vince and I felt that teaching instrument repair in high school could be a strong win-win through a public-private partnership. Later, the idea of a bond proposal for Arlington ISD was being discussed. I approached our Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Marcello Cavazos and Chief Financial Officer, Cindy Powell, CPA, about the concept of a multipurpose Fine Arts Center that would feature a large performance hall, art gallery, a virtual learning component, and classroom space for innovative arts programs including instrument repair. While our Fine Arts Center will not open until August 2018, Dr. Cavazos has encouraged staff to get the new programming up and running—we can build the buildings later. This charge worked with the timeline for Music & Arts and the doors opened in August 2015 for our Musical Instrument Repair class' temporary home at Bowie High School. The space is an old photography developing lab—digital made the room obsolete, but has been given new life with hammers, mandrels, and trombones.
AMP: What is the primary mission behind this program?
JE: Part of the Arlington ISD Strategic Plan is for 100% of students to graduate college or career ready. So, the primary mission of this program is to support student success through providing the skills necessary to be employable as a musical instrument repair apprentice.
AMP: Do you hope school systems elsewhere adopt what you have done?
JE: We have certainly received some calls. This will ultimately be up to the industry as it relates to demand. Music & Arts, while a great partner, is not doing this just out of the goodness of their heart—they are also looking to grow their future workforce.
AMP: Describe the reaction the program has received from students, fellow teachers, and parents (perhaps band boosters organization).
JE: There is a sense of pride that comes with being recognized as the “first” to do something, so there is certainly a buzz locally. Recently I was at a gathering of AISD stakeholders. A student was introduced as part of the Musical Instrument Repair class, and there was a kind of collective, “Ooh.” It was awesome for our student to receive that affirmation. The student articulated that he was not sure what he was going to do after high school and now has a plan. It was then awesome for our stakeholders to receive that reciprocal affirmation in terms of supporting this new program.
There is also some data. The Dallas/Ft. Worth National Public Radio KERA News story, Forget Woodshop, This May Be The First High School Class That Teaches Instrument Repair, by Bill Zeeble was number 13 of the top 20 stories for the station in 2015.
AMP: How many students are currently enrolled?
JE: We were able to get the ink to dry on our agreement with Music & Arts in May 2015. So, with little notice or awareness, the enrollment began at 11 students. After schedule conflicts, our first, 1st semester featured half-dozen students.
AMP: What is your long-term goal for this program?
JE: Our long-term goal for the program is to be instructing two cohorts of 10-15 students: 1st year juniors and 2nd year seniors. We want students to also learn about the retail side, and the variety of music industry occupations which may be of interest to them.
We will also create an instrument repair survey-type summer mini-mester, to engage future music educators as part of a larger “grow-your-own” program bringing top talent back home as teachers in Arlington ISD.
AMP: Anything else you would like to add?
JE: I cannot more emphatically underscore the importance of our great teacher from Music & Arts, Joseph Strohl. He is student-centered, has terrific pacing, and truly leads the learning. Music & Arts has set this program up for success by properly resourcing the tools and equipment necessary for experiential learning and most importantly, providing outstanding teacher talent.
Finally, there is no state or federal education mandate that we must prevent students from enjoying school or to withhold innovative avenues for success. In 2016 we cannot do fine arts to our students the way fine arts was done to us. By expanding access for our traditional programs while creating unique pathways to engage students, the arts education rising tide lifts all boats!
To read and listen to the NPR story:
And hear is a recent video interview with Dr. Earnhart conducted at Conn-Selmer Institute summer of 2015.