Arts, musical education highlighted during latest Pelham BOE meeting

Published 5:58 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2024

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

PELHAM – Pelham’s Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, April 30 provided attendants with a number of presentations that highlighted recent successes and long-term developmental accomplishments within Pelham City Schools as part of its Panther Pride and 10-year retrospective segments.

To kick off the meeting, Superintendent Chuck Ledbetter presented the April rendition of Panther Pride, a segment that begins every meeting of the BOE which highlights a number of recent notable accomplishments and successes from across all of Pelham City Schools. Among the many items covered were the Pelham students recently featured in the Children’s Policy Council’s Character in Action Awards on Thursday, April 18.

“One student from each of our schools was chosen for positively impacting their school and community with actions that exhibit respect, responsibility, citizenship, self-discipline, friendship, fairness, perseverance and courage,” Ledbetter said. “We celebrated those students at an event in American Village with other school systems in collaboration with the Shelby County Juvenile Court, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, and the American Legion Post 555.”

Ledbetter also highlighted the four Pelham High School students that were among the roster of this year’s Youth Leadership Shelby County class, which featured 32 total students from across the county and identified Jessica Joy Ferguson for being named the Shelby County Career Pathway Student of the Year.

Sarah Tarbox, a teacher at Pelham High School, was also recognized for her selection as a Vex Robotics World Championship judge, while Pelham High School Principal Kim Kiel was also recognized for her selection as vice president of the Alabama High School Athletics Association Central Board of Control.

Other Panther Pride highlights included, but were not limited to:

  •  Five Pelham students being chosen for space academy for the Space Academy for Leading Students in Alabama (SALSA)
  •  Several grade-level winners reading a combined 14,959 minutes as part of a three week competition at Pelham Ridge Elementary
  • PHS, Technology Student Association (TSA) students earning top recognitions in categories such as coding, webmaster, drones, vex robotics, podcasts, technology problem solving, prepared presentation, safety posters and more at a state competition. In addition, 10 of those students also qualified for involvement in the national competition in Orlando this summer
  •  Student artwork from Pelham Oaks recently being showcased at the Patton Creek Art Festival.

The audience and board members also received a presentation in the ongoing series focusing on the 10-year celebration of Pelham City Schools. This meeting’s iteration featured Justin Ward, director of bands at Pelham High School, discussing how far the performing arts and music program has come in PCS since its inception.

“I think it is an honor to be able to serve in Pelham City Schools and to have been here for all 20 years from day one,” Ward said. “It has been an incredible blessing personally. I think we’re truly privileged in PCS, which has invested so heavily into the arts and into music education.”

Ward cited that musical education has been scientifically tied to intellectual development and has been proven to aid in the development of reading and learning skills and that it can enhance learning capabilities in every other area of academics.

“The growth we have seen and what we offer to our students now is truly tremendous,” Ward said.

In its current form, PCS offers general music education to all elementary students. That education includes singing, Orff instruments, ukuleles, recorders, dance movement, folk dancing, music history, world music and music technology as it relates to the performance of music.

“The elementary schools have a very diverse experience over the six years that they are in our elementary level music program,” Ward said.

Having grown from its original stature, Pelham Park Middle School now features the additions of a beginning band, two concert bands, pep band, and the latest addition of a percussion ensemble. Pelham Middle and High School’s choir is also expanding year over year with trends indicating that the growth will continue at pace.

“Our band program at the high school is also multifaceted,” Ward said. “We of course have a marching band that you see—that is our most visible and largest ensemble that we have.”

Ward described the program as having surpassed what many believe constitutes a high school band and stated that it was now more than simply marching and playing music at football games and more of a fusion of all of the performing arts.

Ward also made mention of the fact that all members of the marching band are also taught dance as part of the program.

PHS further features its own two concert bands, pop and jazz ensembles, pep bands, percussion ensembles, color guard, dance team and majorettes, all of which Ward cites as part of the band program that work year-round.

“We are offering a lot to our students from a performance-based standpoint,” Ward said. “Many of those things, particular at the elementary level, we were really not really offering that wide of an experience ten years ago. What you see and what the students see continues to move forward as grow.”

Also highlighted was the fact that every student at Pelham’s elementary school level attends a music class every week, which is not universal among elementary schools across the state due to limited funding provided by the state.

“We may take that for granted, but I can assure you that we have people in other areas where that is not the case,” Ward said. “Students often do not have access to music in elementary school, so to have all of our students participating in music—particularly with how crucial it is to their development, is absolutely important.”

In the terms of growth since the beginning of the school system, Ward stated that the first iteration of the Pelham band program featured 225 students across grades 6-12 at both Pelham Park and Pelham High School. That number now stands at 470 students currently expected to take part in the program at the start of the next school year.

“That equates to over 25 percent of the enrollment of those schools combined participating in our band program and getting some type of music every day,” Ward said. “We want that number to continue to grow, but that is a tremendous amount of growth when we were around 10-12 percent.”

From that beginning, Pelham’s band program has grown to now feature a list of more than 1,000 musical performances over the past decade that have changed lives, charted careers and crossed state lines.

Ward specifically listed the board’s investment in staffing, band facilities, the school auditorium, practice fields, sound systems, equipment and other upgrades such as new band and choir rooms and the middle school and investments toward Pelham Oaks’ new music room and Pelham Ridge’s music room renovation as factors that have heavily contributed to the program’s growing and continued success.

Amanda Knight, a visual arts teacher at Pelham Oaks Elementary also spoke at the meeting by highlighting PCS’ successful visual arts program.

“We have three art teachers at Pelham High School, one at Pelham Ridge and one at the middle school and I am at Pelham Oaks,” Knight said.

Knight highlighted PCS’ development of Fine Arts Night which has since developed into individual art shows held at each school rather than its original iteration of being a unified presentation from all schools. She also detailed the PCS’ investment into the arts program that has helped to bolster and support the program in an era where others have faltered and performed a review of all the major winners that PCS has had at art shows from the past decade.

“We are very thankful to be a part of PCS and to be here,” Knight said. “There are no state funded art teachers in Alabama and to be locally funded and to have that support here is incredible. There are tons and tons of elementary schools in Alabama that don’t have art and music. A lot of the classroom teachers are having to teach the arts, so I’m just very thankful that it is what I get to do here. It’s fun.”