The Covid-19 pandemic forced music educators to reinvent the ways in which they taught their music classes. At first, changes were necessary due to school building closures and classes being conducted virtually, and then, when students returned in person, they had to learn to play music while also mitigating the risk of spreading the virus through aerosols. With so much at stake, some wondered if music in schools would survive the pandemic.
What happened was nothing short of miraculous: music teachers across the United States adapted their curriculum and embraced recommended mitigation strategies, and students donned masks and bell covers so that music could once again fill the halls of their schools. With so much innovation, it’s no wonder that The NAMM Foundation recognized a staggering 686 school districts with a Best Communities for Music Education (BCME) designation and 80 SupportMusic Merit Awards (SMMA) to individual schools in 2021.
Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, Georgia, has seen a lot of change in the 22 years that they’ve been awarded the BCME designation. And so, Dr. Matthew Koperniak, music coordinator for the district kept students engaged in music making while online during stay-at-home order, when things opened up a bit and they went hybrid, and then used recommended mitigation strategies when students returned to the classroom in Fall 2021. He explained how he kept the programs going:
“During the early months of the pandemic, all of our classes were online. We utilized several programs to engage students during this time, including SmartMusic, UpbeatMusicApp, ToneSavvy, Sightreading Factory, and Quaver. As we shifted towards a hybrid model for the 2020-2021 school year, we used singers' masks, bell covers, and social distancing to begin singing and playing instruments again. As we have begun the 2021-2022 school year, we are entirely in-person. We have resumed public performances, and programs are starting to rebuild. Many of our middle school programs have reported strong recruiting classes of beginners. Students want to join and participate in meaningful activities. They want to make music!”
Two-time BCME designee Lansing School District #158’s Director of Bands Matthew Becker of Lansing, Illinois, said of his students’ capacity for resilience, “Through the experience of adversity and challenge during the Covid-19 pandemic, and adapting to the changes continuing to be made to ensure the health and safety of our students, staff, and community, I have learned that children are extremely resilient. Children of all ages and grade levels have the capacity to build and harness tools and routines that will help them cope with challenges and become strong members of society through the adversity they have experienced. It has been amazing to watch students adapt to new and innovative teaching methods including virtual, hybrid, and in-person with mitigations put in place.”
Both Koperniak and Becker attribute much of the community, administrative and financial support of their music programs to receiving the BCME designation. They worked hard to get their music programs recognized and used all of the tools provided in The NAMM Foundation’s media toolkit to get local media to notice their efforts.
Becker said of receiving the BCME award, “Receiving the BCME award for two years in a row has greatly benefited our music programs in Lansing District #158. We have been recognized locally by the town of Lansing in publications such as The Lansing Journal, as well as our local television station, the Lansing News Network (LNN). Our administration and teachers have shared this award in celebration with all staff and students within the community, and this has led to continued innovation in collaborative efforts across the district to provide the best education in all facets that meet the unique individual needs of every student.”
He continued, “Receiving this designation has led to an effort to build upon our vertical collaboration across grade levels to emphasize consistency from K-8, including added Professional Development time for Subject level articulation across all grade levels. This has also led to a continuation of support for the Elementary vocal, Band and Choir programs through funding instrument repair, transportation needs, and providing all necessary PPE to ensure student success in all facets of music education.”
Koperniak maintains that receiving the BCME award every year for the past 22 years is critical to his music program’s success in Fulton County Schools. He said, “This designation is crucial to ongoing financial support, including band and orchestra instrument growth and replacement, instrument repair funding, band uniform replacement cycles, and a three-million-dollar music literature purchase cycle over six years. This designation supports our efforts as we work to expand programs, such as Music Technology, which we currently have been piloting in several of our high schools.”
Becker and Koperniak represent just two districts out of the 686 BCME award winners, but their dedication to receiving community support, along with their ability to adapt, is representative of the schools and districts recognized by The NAMM Foundation.
Becker said, “In essence, music and music education have been a source of positivity and an outlet for many before, during, and will continue to be after we have gotten past the Covid-19 Pandemic.” We couldn’t agree more.