Local schools awarded arts education grants

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

Two Shelby County schools’ music programs have been selected to receive Alabama Arts Education Initiative Grants.

Columbiana Middle School’s band program, under the direction of Matt Martindale, and Montevallo Middle School’s choir program, under the direction of Cissy Johnson, each will receive $20,000 to enhance the musical opportunities for their students.

“We are very proud of Mr. Martindale and Mrs. Johnson and their dedication to providing quality music experiences for the students at Montevallo and Columbiana middle schools,” SCS Fine Arts and Library Media Supervisor Michelle Hall said. “While they have only been at their schools for a few years, they have jumped in and embraced the students and community. Their passion for music education and their creative vision has provided new performance opportunities for their students as well as the chance to engage with professional musicians.”

Johnson said her grant was written from a SEAL (Social Emotional Academic Learning) perspective.

“I researched and wrote about how students who are socially and emotionally healthy excel academically,” Johnson said. “I went on to document how the participation and association with a group like choir elevates the social and emotional health of people. With this comes an investment in academic learning and success.”

MMS’s grant funding will be used to purchase Chromebooks and a cart for the choral program, and music theory software; to pay for three educators and administrators to attend an SEL conference and implement what they learn at MMS; and to help pay for a choir trip to New York City or Disney in spring 2021.

“I am so excited for my students and the choral program,” Johnson said. “These grants are not awarded freely. It is a lengthy process that required a great deal of research on my part, along with the support of my school administration and our SCBOE fine arts supervisor.”

The MMS Choir is currently working on repertoire for its spring concert on May 11 at 6 p.m. in the Montevallo High School Performing Arts Center.

The Columbiana Middle School band program is also receiving an Alabama Arts Initiative Grant this year. (Contributed)

At CMS, Martindale said the grant funding will be used for purchasing new instruments that will allow the school to offer beginning band to students free of charge.

“With these new instruments and repairs to our existing instrument inventory, we will be able to furnish an instrument for over 40 students at CMS,” Martindale said. “That will serve over 30 percent of the incoming sixth grade classes from Elvin Hill, Shelby and Wilsonville Elementary schools that feed into our school. With this additional supply, we can offer band to all students and allow them and their families not to worry about the financial obligations of purchasing an instrument.”

Martindale said the other part of the grant will be used in correlation with the band boosters, which fund and support the CMS and Shelby County High School band programs.

“This part will be the beginnings of a weekly private lesson program for our students to have a professional musician on their instrument,” he said. “This will lead to a higher quality of music education and development of our students.”

The CMS band is preparing to tour its elementary school feeders in March to recruit students to join band in the sixth grade.

On March 18, the band will perform a Music Performance Assessment at Thompson High School. The spring concert will be held on April 21 at SCHS, followed by the band’s spring trip to Disney World on April 29-May 2.

“I am on cloud nine after receiving the notice that we had been approved for the funds,” Martindale said. “This is a turning point for our band program. It will bring a drastic change to the program, which will see dramatic growth.”

The Alabama Arts Education Initiative Grants are awarded to schools in an effort to strengthen the development and implementation of a comprehensive arts education program.

Once written, the grants are sent to an independent judging committee consisting of music educators, music professionals and community members.

The grants are given by the Alabama State Department of Education.