CARY – Inside a fourth-grade classroom at Deer Path School during the first week of classes, music teacher Rachel Mastalski leads the students’ first music lesson of the year.
She discusses the rules for music class and introduces the youngsters to some of the instruments they will use, including a hand drum, rhythm sticks and cymbals.
“When you play your instrument, you’re going to play nice and softly,” Mastalski said. “Because we don’t have a lot of instruments, they’re expensive. So if we break it, that’s one less instrument we have to play.”
By the end of class, Mastalski and the students were singing a song.
Having teachers who teach art and music classes in Cary District 26 was missing the past few years. This year, the district was able to bring back dedicated teachers for art and music classes, as well as physical education for the elementary schools.
The kindergarten through eighth grade district cut art and music, as well as other special classes, three years ago as part of budget reductions needed to put the district on healthier financial footing and away from regular deficit spending.
Educationally, having art and music is important, Deer Path fifth-grade teacher Vicki Schnure said.
“Most studies have shown that students who are well-versed in art and music are better students academically,” Schnure said. “For students that don’t shine academically, if they’re good in P.E. or good in music or good in art, this gives them a place where they could excel, and that could only help them in the classroom because they’re feeling good about themselves and positive about learning, and that carries into the classroom.”
Not having specials affects the regular classroom teacher because there is little time to plan during the day, Schnure said. During the first week of school, while Schnure’s class was in physical education, she was using the time to look for material for her math lesson for the next day.
“It gives you some time to think about what you’re going to do for the next day, maybe do some research [on] materials that you need to do your upcoming lesson,” Schnure said.
Previously, when there were no specials, planning time took place after school. Now there is time to talk after school about individual students and how to address their specific needs.
“I think it’s going to help us be more effective in the lessons to teach because we’ll have more time to prepare them,” Schnure said.
In recent years, she said regular classroom teachers would try to teach the specials curriculum as well as possible.
“I’m not a gym teacher,” Schnure said. “While I know some games, and we would try to learn them, we were asked to do more things with less time.”
Art-wise, some teachers would do art projects once a month. There also were parents who would come in and do a project with students.
Each week, students get two half-hour sessions of P.E. and one half-hour session of music. Students also get an hour of art every other week, Deer Path Principal Thom Gippert said.
Before the cuts, P.E. was every day, and there was an hour each of art and music.
Because of space constraints, art and music teachers have to travel from room to room with carts at Deer Path and Three Oaks School. Briargate School set aside a classroom for music and art.
At the junior high level, students have art and music for six weeks each. Before the cuts, those classes were for 12 weeks at a time.
Parents are happy to have the specials back.
Jenn Szafranski has a third-grader at Briargate, an eighth- and sixth-grader at Cary Junior High, and one child who is in private school for full-day kindergarten.
“Obviously they like the break from the regular curriculum because art and music is fun,” Szafranski said. “It’s not like learning math or history. I think they like that break.”
Joanne Chapman, who has a sixth-grader, Taylor, in the district, said she understood the past decision to cut specials.
“It’s what had to be done,” Chapman said. “Our district would have been taken over by the state. What [former Finance Director] T. Ferrier said came true. She said it would only be a couple of years.”