This weekend, the Rochester City School District Marching Band embarks on its first-ever, out of state trip to Hersheypark in Pennsylvania. This trip is a watershed moment, according to Alison Schmitt, lead teacher for the Arts Department in the Rochester City School District.
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Schmitt: Back in the 40s and 50s there were marching bands in every single city high school, and you can see some reminders of that when you go and visit those locations. But for a variety of reasons the programs died out over the years.
Tremblay: About five years ago, Schmitt says, as part of a major expansion and reinvestment in the arts in city school district, the city school district chose to start the Pride of Rochester marching band. It began with kids from fifth to twelfth grades and a handful of students, including some with special needs. Schmitt says it has bloomed into a full-fledged marching band with new uniforms and a brand new, custom-made equipment truck.
Schmitt: There is not really a program like this in western New York. If you’re talking about urban districts. We go year-round. It’s phenomenal as an access point for all the students that feel like they don’t fit in anywhere else.
Tremblay: She says there’s a bigger picture here: that the arts can help students thrive academically and socially. She likes to tell Jonah’s story. He was a student of hers before the Pride of Rochester marching band got off the ground.
Schmitt: Jonah Barley was a student of mine at School Number 16 many years ago, and he came into the program really struggling behaviorally. He was in in school suspension every other week He loved singing, and he loved dancing, he loved being in chorus so we had a conversation in June of his fifth grade year. I said, "Jonah, you want to be in chorus so here’s the deal. I need to be on time every day I need you to do what you need to do in your classes and I need you to avoid in school suspension. Really, use your strategies to keep yourself in line if you can do that you will be my new dance captain." Between September and January of the following year, he went from several times in-school suspensions to none. He changed his life through the power of music. He was phenomenal. I took him everywhere with my performing arts program to 17 shows all throughout the community and Jonah was the star. Through his entire demeanor he engaged in his classroom in a totally different way because of coming to school every day. I’ve used on a story with many little boys across the city school district for years to show what you can do if you put your passion first. Unfortunately, Jonah is no longer with us. He was one of the boys that was murdered at the Boys and Girls Club. But his impact is still being felt throughout our community every time I tell the story.
Tremblay: That’s Alison Schmitt, lead teacher for the Arts Department in the Rochester City School District. You can hear more about musical developments in the Rochester City Schools in a longer conversation here.