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The Mercer Island Band Program is much more than a series of band classes.

When concerned for my elementary school daughter's social-emotional health, my friends would say "Get (and keep) your daughter in band". At the time, I had no idea how learning how to play an instrument and attending a band class could end up being such a huge impact on hers (and our) lives. Why is this band program so different than others?

While every child's path through the band program is unique, here is my parent view of mine. In 4th grade, she would talk about how the middle schoolers played a concert at an assembly. She was the most excited when she saw the 5th graders come back and play, because she knew next year was her turn to be 'one of the big kids'. When they had instrument tryouts at the school, she came home ecstatic that she was a good match for the flute. She felt empowered because it was her choice (not something mom dragged her into trying).

In 5th grade, having instrument specific instruction was a huge step in getting her proficient quickly. And becoming proficient quickly, gave her self-confidence and pride in her playing abilities. She would explain the different nuances of forming your lips to achieve the best sound. Having a trumpet teacher teaching the flute would not have been nearly as effective!

What got her truly hooked into band ... All Island Band Night ... where the entire band program, from 5th - 12th grade performed at halftime of the MIHS football game. 5th graders playing Hot Cross Buns and Go Tell Aunt Rhody are always the stars of the show! This is when she learned she was part of a huge supportive community that would be her family for the next 8 years.

The middle school playing at the elementary school, the high school mentoring the middle school kids, the 8th graders playing at the 3rd quarter with the high school, etc all creates one 7-800 person strong band family. Because of the anxiety of transition between the elementary school into the middle school, we gave her a choice of moving to a private school. She chose not to because she wanted to remain in the band family. We gave her the choice again moving into MIHS, once again the answer was the same.

Over the next eight years, the team teaching approach where the directors all have an impact on the kids lives, creates a tight bond between the students and these all so important adults in their lives. An MIYFS counselor noted, because the directors watch our children grow and develop from 5th - 12th grade, they are in a unique position to identify changes over time in students who may be struggling with social or emotional issues.

In the 8th grade, the students go to Winterfest and a solo and ensemble festival during the school day. Because these activities were an uncomfortable stretch for my daughter, if these events were an optional weekend activity she may not have gone. Instead, she went, performed, and came out of the experience with increased self-confidence.

At MIHS, many times the band office or rooms become a safe haven for kids. Kids dealing with tough non-band issues, will come to the directors seeking advice. Uncomfortable subjects (like the sexual assault walkout a couple of weeks ago) are discussed in an open and frank manner between the students and these trusted adults. A similar discussion is not possible in a typical classroom.

How do these directors engender such trust and a tight bond? It is not an overnight process, it is one that builds upon itself in time. The larger the performance opportunity, the more enthusiasm (ie engagement, commitment, and dedication) that is created, and more social-emotional, leadership, musical, and personal growth occurs. Creating a high quality musical program while remaining no-cut, all-inclusive, with no-barriers to participation This quality opens the doors for more performance opportunities.

To get ready for performances, the students give it their all because they see the directors giving it their all. They are there at 6am in the morning and often as late as midnight. Whether it is an All Island Band Night rehearsal in the pouring rain, or blowing into an instrument while marching and dancing for 5 1/2 miles, or practicing all day in 20 degree weather for multiple days, or waking up at 4am after going to sleep at midnight (7 days in a row), creates an incredible bond between the kids and the directors because the directors are by the students side every step of the way.

Once again, every child's path through the program is a unique one because the directors are able to challenge each student in very different ways, whether it's a solo, leadership activity, organizing an event, or even drawing a comic book to complement a band performance. The band is home to athletes and gamers, dyslexics and scholars, introverts and extroverts, all in one community.

~ Tammy Heydon, (Hannah, Class of 2022)


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