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For the first time, the Williamsburg-James City County School Division has been honored as a best community for music education by the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation.
Only 476 school districts out of the country’s 13,515 were recognized this year for the work teachers, administrators, parents, students and community leaders do to “ensure access to music learning for all students as part of the school curriculum,” according to the NAMM Foundation.
John Rasky, coordinator of fine arts for WJCC schools, said the recognition “validates” the WJCC school division’s emphasis on the arts, and particularly music.
“We’re very proud of this because we do feel we’ve put all the resources we can into the arts,” Rasky said.
Rasky said the school division aims to offer “as many programs as [they] can” that appeal to students and avoid cutting programs. When the fifth grade instrumental music program was at risk of losing funding in 2012, parents successfully advocated for funding to be restored.
“It almost went away but we worked hard to keep it,” Rasky said. “I think that showed an emphasis on really keeping student choice available as young as possible.”
Music education in WJCC schools begins in kindergarten. Elementary school students take a weekly music class and fifth-graders can join band or orchestra. Instrumental and choral ensembles are offered from sixth grade through high school.
Rasky said music educators in WJCC schools willingly offer additional instruction after school to help fledgling musicians.
“All of our educators are involved in those extra hours that are there to help a kid go as far as they possibly can or want to go,” Rasky said.
Additionally, students have the opportunity to learn from professionals when they perform in side-by-side concerts with members of the Williamsburg Symphonia, Rasky said.
In its 17th year, the Best Communities for Music Education recognition has “added significance” this year following the passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which “designates music as a recommended subject and as part of ‘a well-rounded education,’” according to a NAMM press release.