A national organization is singing the praises of the music programs offered through the Olathe public schools.
The school district is one of 388 across the country to receive the Best Communities for Music Education designation for 2015.
The award is handed out each year by the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to advance active participation in music. This year, the Olathe School District was the only one in Kansas to be given the best communities designation.
Best Communities for Music Education recognizes school districts that have demonstrated exceptional efforts in maintaining music education as part of their core curriculum.
Martha Gabel is the fine arts coordinator for Olathe schools. She said the district was honored to receive the recognition.
“I was excited and pleased and just thrilled for our staff and thrilled for our district as well,” Gabel said. “There are many kinds of awards and we see a lot of those come up with music performances in our district, but this looks at the core of what we do as music educators — and that’s the instruction.”
The district went through an extensive application process in order to qualify for the designation. Gabel said the foundation looked at a variety of factors, including the percentage of students enrolled in music classes in the district, the amount of time given each week to music instruction, the amount of support that music education receives from the school district administration and the percentage of funding for the curriculum that comes from student fundraising versus general funds.
Other factors considered included the percentage of music educators that had master’s degrees and doctorate degrees and the opportunities the teachers have for professional development in the district.
Gabel said one reason that Olathe stood out for this award is that it continues to make music education a key component of its students’ curriculum.
“We offer consistent instruction for students from preschool through high school,” Gabel said. “As we see budget cuts throughout the nation, we see access to music instruction in some districts diminishing. In Olathe we have made a commitment to that consistent instruction and have not cut back time for our students.”
Early childhood and elementary students in Olathe attend general music classes twice a week for 30 minutes each. Once students reach fourth and fifth grade, students are given the opportunity to enroll in their school’s special chorus. In fifth grade, students may also elect to participate in band or orchestra. And in middle and high school, students may take band, orchestra or choir classes.
School district officials said they feel the commitment to music education is an important one.
“We firmly believe that music is an integral part of educating our young people,” Deputy Superintendent Alison Banikowski said in a written statement. “The research is clear that students involved in music excel academically, develop self-discipline, and self-confidence.”
But Gabel said the benefits of music education go far beyond academic success in the classroom. She credits music education with helping prepare students for life outside the classroom.
“It takes a strong work ethic to be successful in music,” said Gabel. “Music also teaches you about persistence and not giving up. Those are employable skills. Whether a student continues with music or not, they will take that with them and benefit from that for the rest of their lives.”
But as important as the music curriculum is for Olathe students, Gabel feels the true reason that music education thrives in her district is because of the wonderful teachers who bring it to life each and every day.
“None of this is possible without the music staff that we have,” said Gabel. “They are just outstanding and they take a tough job and make it look easy and make it great for their students. We are fortunate to have who we have.”