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Students disappointed that Carbondale schools are losing music classes, but a community partnership gives hope

Carbondale Middle School students tune their instruments before their last concert of the 2023-2024 school year on May 14, 2024. The Roaring Fork School District announced earlier this year that they would be cutting music and band classes at its Carbondale schools in the fall.
Halle Zander
Aspen Public Radio
Carbondale Middle School students tune their instruments before their last concert of the 2023-2024 school year on May 14, 2024. The Roaring Fork School District announced earlier this year that they would be cutting music and band classes at its Carbondale schools in the fall.

Nola Fitzgerald, an eighth-grade student at Carbondale Middle School, is a dedicated musician.

“Oh my goodness, I love music so much,” Fitzgerald gushed before performing in the last music concert of the school year on May 14. “It's my whole entire life: I'm in choir, I did the Honor Jazz Band, I did All-State Choir.”

More than just her favorite hobby, music helps Fitzgerald express her feelings.

“It's hard to communicate with words sometimes, because when you have an instrument in your hands, then you're able to really show yourself to the world and tell people how you really feel.”

Fitzgerald was disappointed to hear that the Roaring Fork School District is cutting a lot of Carbondale’s music classes next year.

According to district officials, Carbondale Middle School is eliminating Band, General Music, and Core Band for 5th-8th graders. Crystal River Elementary School hasn’t offered music classes for at least a year, and is still looking to hire a qualified teacher. Roaring Fork High School is losing its guitar class, however, the nonprofit Jazz Aspen Snowmass will offer a Modern Band class to replace the Jazz Band, and it’ll teach after-school programs for middle school students.

In an interview with Aspen Public Radio, Superintendent Dr. Anna Cole said partnerships like this are crucial to offering students options in their electives, because there’s a slew of classes the district isn’t able to offer.

“Kids cannot take bio A.P., physics A.P. next year at Roaring Fork High School, because class sizes were too small,” Dr. Cole said. “We can't find an educator who can teach that at that level of skill, and so now kids are looking at online options, going to Glenwood, going to Basalt. This is not new to us to have this dilemma.”

Dr. Cole said these partnerships are a tool for small schools combating deficits in funding and staffing. She added that there haven’t been a lot of students signing up for music lately, compared to more popular courses like wood shop and weightlifting.

In general, Dr. Cole said a high school needs to have about 700 students in order to offer more robust programs, since enrollment is tied to state funding.

According to the Colorado Department of Education, Roaring Fork High School had 455 kids enrolled in the 2023-2024 school year, so the district has to get creative to offer kids a diverse set of classes.

“We had our principal and other leaders driving children to an A.P. Physics class all year to try to make sure that kids get access to these kinds of specialized programs,” Dr. Cole said.

Some kids travel to Glenwood Springs to take concurrent classes at Colorado Mountain College.

But at the music concert last month, families wondered why music classes were sacrificed over other course offerings.

Yolanda Jackson-Rosales is a parent of two students at Carbondale Middle School, and she sees the social-emotional benefits that students could lose without music classes.

“It's no different than a football player or an artist,” Jackson-Rosales said. “A lot of these kids need this in order to let out whatever stresses they might have. … Not to have it, how are they going to find an outlet?”

The Colorado Department of Education cites that by learning music, students practice skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration.

Dr. Cole said cutting the classes was not a happy decision for her team.

“Do our leaders want to offer high quality, robust music?” Dr. Cole said. “Of course they do. One hundred percent they do. Does it break their hearts to not be able to have music offered in their schools because we can't find teachers and we can't get enough kids enrolled? One hundred percent.”

In part, the choice to remove music from the curriculum was because it isn’t accessible for everyone.

When new students come to Carbondale as high schoolers and haven’t had music education previously, they aren’t prepared to join band with students who’ve been taking music for more than four years, whereas the school’s Art 1 classes welcome everyone.

When asked if music would ever return, Dr. Cole wonders, “how do we think about music education that really leverages the strengths of our student community, which is bilingualism, multiculturalism, diversity, immigrant stories, kids who haven't had access to music education and are coming new to our schools as 15, 16-year-olds? How do we make sure that whatever we're offering is accessible to them?”

For those who are able to take band at an early age, like Fitzgerald, music can become much more than just another class.

“All of us are super connected to it, and we really, really love band,” Fitzgerald said. “The music program is a huge part of my life, so I definitely need it.”

Dr. Cole emphasized that the district will have to lean on its partnerships with community organizations like JAS Aspen, and think creatively about how to continue to offer these special classes.

Copyright 2024 Aspen Public Radio

Halle Zander