For the eighth year running, Spring ISD has been named among the country’s Best Communities for Music Education by the NAMM Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM). The award honors districts for their achievements in providing access to a quality music education for all students, and this year’s win is especially sweet, according to Spring ISD Director of Performing and Visual Arts Dr. Joe Clark.
“Spring ISD has been a home to incredible arts programs for a long time, and the arts have always been really important to both the district and the community,” Clark said. “This year, with COVID-19, teaching and learning have been challenging across the board, but arts teachers – including our amazing Spring ISD music teachers – face a lot of unique challenges. It’s really their love of music combined with their commitment to their students that makes the Best Communities for Music Education award possible.”
Now in its 22nd year, the Best Communities for Music Education award program recognizes districts that demonstrate outstanding achievement in their efforts to provide music access and education to all students. To qualify, districts must answer detailed questions about program funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program and community music-making programs. Responses are verified with school officials and reviewed by The Music Research Institute at the University of Kansas.
Speaking about the award, Spring ISD music teachers celebrated the news, and commented on how music and other fine arts classes were helping keep students engaged and connected during the pandemic.
“I feel like it is really important to the community,” said Burchett Elementary School music teacher Sarah Carlisle, now in her ninth year teaching in the district. “The students really love it, the parents really love it. I think there is data to show how we have affected attendance and academics within the district, and because of that I feel like we receive really good support from the administration.”
Carlisle said one upside of teaching students during the pandemic has been the district’s commitment to supporting the QuaverMusic online teaching platform, paired with a unified elementary music curriculum allowing teachers across the district to tackle the challenges of the past year together as a team. The software had already been used by music teachers for several years in their own classrooms, but the program’s flexibility has allowed both in-person and at-home students to continue their learning.
“Without that, this year would have been a lot harder,” Carlisle said.
McNabb Elementary School music teacher Christine Ballenger agreed, saying that the district’s integration of technology and online tools had helped her keep connected with her students.
“It allows us to teach kids who are remote learners just as effectively as those we teach in person,” said Ballenger, adding that students were utilizing the online tools – integrated with the music curriculum – to find new ways to be creative, including composing music on their own and even getting a basic introduction to topics like audio engineering and sound design.
Ballenger, who joined the district in 2019 after working as a music teacher in other parts of the country, said teaching here during the pandemic had made her especially grateful for online tools, like those built into Schoology and Quaver, that allow her to stay in touch with students, gauge their level of interaction with the material, and find out how they’re doing – both in class and in general.
“It reinforces how important building those relationships with your students is,” Ballenger said, “to really connect with your kids on that personal level.”
Ballenger also said it had reinforced her own decision to join a district where arts education was valued, both by the community and by campus and district administrators.
“It’s good to work for a district that continues to be recognized by the NAMM Foundation as a Best Community for Music Education. It just shows that music’s important to the district and that it continues to be a focus point,” Ballenger said. “Part of why I applied to teach in Spring and wanted to teach for Spring ISD was because I could see that music – and support for music and the arts – was important here.”
The NAMM Foundation is a nonprofit supported in part by the National Association of Music Merchants and its approximately 10,400 members around the world. The foundation advances active participation in music making across the lifespan by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving and public service programs. For more information about the Best Communities for Music Education award program and the NAMM Foundation, visit www.nammfoundation.org.