School band directors trying to find high note despite snow days

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 10:27 am on Wednesday, January 29, 2014

By Cory Smith and Elisabeth Waldon

For Greenville High School Band Director Susan Gould, the large amount of snow days this winter — nine to date — has made her teaching routine nearly impossible as students remain home, many without instruments on which to practice.

“When we lose days, we can’t really make them up,” Gould said. “I have to decide if we can continue working toward a specific performance, if we need to alter the music planned for the performance, or if we can still make our goal despite the lost time.”

Gould said the extra time off school, such as five straight days from Friday of last week through Tuesday of this week, can leave students “checked out” mentally, making that first day back to school more difficult.

“I teach teenagers, whose body clocks are naturally set to wake late and stay up late,” she said. “In just a day or two, they are back to that natural cycle. All these snow days make for very sleepy/grumpy students when they have to get back to the routine.”

According to Gould, students at Greenville High School are in the middle of finishing exams before the start of their second semester, which leaves little regular homework for students to study while away from school.

“Many classes have not begun teaching new material so there really isn’t anything for them to work on from home,” she said. “We’re getting a late start to the start of our second semester.”

The biggest burden, perhaps, Gould says, is that the students are forced to “catch up” on material in a short amount of time.

“Unfortunately for this round of cancellations, many of my students had their materials and instruments at school, and they’ve been there since last Thursday,” she said.

Once school does resume, Gould says she uses that first day to try to jump-start her students back into a routine.

When we do get back to school, I teach a lot of material that first day, inundate them with all the information we’ve missed,” she said. “Then I can continue the next few days reviewing what I threw out to them that initial day back.

While that’s not the way Gould prefers to teach, she said the lack of school days leaves her little options to choose from.

“It’s not ideal, but like an electrical jolt, it jump starts their minds,” she said. “They’ve been relatively dormant for a few days, so they can absorb much more than normal on that first day back.”

Over at Belding High School, Band Director Laura Hyler said she will be forced to implement evening rehearsals to catch her students up on the time they have missed (currently 10 snow days).

“This is the most amount of snow days I’ve ever had in my 11 years of teaching,” Hyler said.

Hyler said she began preparing for extra snow days shortly before Christmas because she had a “gut feeling” the weather would be poor in January.

“As soon as we lost a few days after our Christmas break, I checked around with the athletic department for open dates in the evening. I had to add a night practice, and we are already scheduled for one on Thursday,” she said.

Hyler said she will use Thursday’s three-hour rehearsal to catch her students up on valuable rehearsal time that has been missed. She said the most important thing as an educator is to remain flexible and upbeat.

“My philosophy right now is that everyone is in the same position,” she said. “I personally just need to stay positive and encourage my students to practice more.”

Despite the days away from school, Hyler said she and her students will be prepared for upcoming performances and competitive concerts.

“The kids and I are just going to make it happen,” she said. “I’ve been very open and proactive, emailing parents, using social media. I’m just going to be as positive as possible. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

Dean Gilbert, the band director of Lakeview, said this winter’s 10 snow days so far have had a major impact on the band, which has been preparing for the MSBOA district solo and ensemble.

“We have to cancel practice times and even the time for work during class has been reduced from the days off from school,” he said. “The kids have done a great job of adjusting their schedules to overcome these lack of practice days. We have been scheduling groups for practice later into the evening when there is school.”

Lakeview solo and ensemble practices were canceled last week and rescheduled for this Saturday.

“I feel like we are a couple of weeks behind already,” Gilbert said. “In addition, we haven’t had the time to work on pep band music as we have had in the past. I had six new song we wanted to add but with the lack of school we’ve had to stick with our songs from the past.”

Gilbert said the most difficult thing for students to overcome is the lack of a consistent routine.

“Once the students are back, I have to  get them back into the schedule mentally and physically,” he said. “I look at the weather as a teaching tool itself. I tell the kids all the time we can only take care of the things that we can control. We can’t control the weather so we have to learn to be flexible as teachers, students, parents and community members. We can’t use the weather as an excuse for bad performances. We have to be more focus and work twice as hard when we are in session.”

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