Drumlines are the answer

By David HoggardN&R mast_1_27.jpg

News & Record - 5/24/06

As our school board wrings its hands and scratches their collective heads trying to figure out how to close achievement gaps and reduce the number of disruptive students in our classrooms, some of our finest middle school teachers are fixing things on their own time.  And for the most part, they are doing it on their own dime as well.
I’m talking drumlines here.
At Aycock Middle, choral teacher Jimmy Cheek started one three years ago.  He saw what everyone else was seeing; ‘at risk’ students with time on their hands after school and headed for trouble.  Many times, those same kids came to school wearing street-wise attitudes on their sleeves.  Exhibiting little educational direction coupled with scant regard for anyone that smacked of authority, “those kids� were “the problem�.
Jimmy’s rules are simple, yet firm.  To participate you must keep passing grades, do your homework, have good conduct marks, and not miss school.  If the criteria are not met, the student still attends rehearsals – but is sidelined until things improve.  You see, Jimmy is a practical man and wanted all of his charges under his wing after school no matter what … and those kids really want to play… so they right themselves with the rules pretty fast.
After several months of utilizing desktops and cast-off drums as playing surfaces, some folks in the community donated enough money to buy the group proper instruments.  But, because they are beat upon, drumheads break and drumsticks splinter.  Keeping Aycock’s drumline drumming requires money – but how much do you figure has come Guilford County School’s coffers? That’d be zilch.  No sir… it’s bake sales and car washes and begging and pleading that is keeping ‘at risk’ Aycock drummers involved in school.
Then there is Welborn Middle School’s Dr. Jane Van Middlesworth.
Readers of Sunday’s N&R Life section got to know ‘Dr. V’ and the good work she has done.  While Tina Firesheets’ article focused on the special relationship between Dr. V and once-in-a-lifetime student-instructor Brandon Davis, the article’s message to our educational bureaucracy should be clear: Welborn’s drumline, like Aycock’s, is making a dramatic impact on children’s lives.
One would expect such excellence and dedication to be fully supported by our school system, but we find that Dr. V “…(bought) drums out of her own pocket� and “…personally pays most of the expenses� for her program.
Now I’m not sure just how much it costs to keep just one ‘at-risk’ student in a holding-pen-like, “alternative environment� such as our SCALES program for a year, but I’ll bet it ain’t cheap.  Let’s call it $10,000 for argument’s sake.
For that same $10,000, our school board could order up a bunch of drums.  They can then rest assured that every middle school has a Jimmy or a Dr. V in their midst who would jump at the chance to reach out to recalcitrant children if they only knew they wouldn’t go broke in the process.
Aycock and Welborn’s after school drumlines are shining examples of what can be accomplished when dedicated teachers feel empowered to do what needs to be done – despite the considerable expense of time and money required to make it all work.  Van Middlesworth and Cheek are involving children back into education by hook and by crook, but it shouldn’t be that way. 
Middle school programs such as drumlines should be initiated – and funded – system-wide as a tool to help reduce gaping achievement gaps that just aren’t closing nearly fast enough.
Or, our school board can just keep wringing their hands wondering what to do about “those kids�.
David Hoggard (www.hoggsblog.com/, dhoggard@triad.rr.com) is a local blogger, business owner, and bi-weekly citizen columnist for the News & Record.

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