ST. GEORGE — The (Desert) Hills (schools) were alive with the sound of music!
From June 14-24, local middle and high school students were able to participate in a free music camp offered by the Fine Arts Department of the Washington County School District.
Monday through Thursday practices were held for at least two hours at either Desert Hills High School or Desert Hills Middle School, with four groups of students mastering either band or orchestra instruments.
The hard work and practice the students put in paid off in a big way when the students performed 10 musical selections for an audience of proud parents, teachers and friends.
“It was a great concert,” said Robert Schmidt, fine arts coordinator for the district. “Each of the four groups performed several pieces, culminating in a combined band number. There was great support from the administration, the school board and the parents and we just need to see more activities like this to help support the arts.”
About 100 orchestra students and over 140 band students participated in the summer camp. About two-thirds of the students were from grades 6-8, with the remaining third enrolled in area high schools.
One of the great advantages of the summer program was the opportunity for students from different schools to meet and mingle, Schmidt said.
“They meet other kids, they make new friends and they learn a different kind of camaraderie that occurs with music,” he said. “It’s not a competition, it’s a collaboration.”
Haley Winslow, a band and orchestra teacher at Snow Canyon Middle School, served as an instructor during the summer camp. She said that seeing the students perform in front of their families and loved ones was the perfect way to finish the program.
“It was really awesome,” Winslow said. “We’re so proud of them (the students) and all they did. We had a full audience of parents and supporters, and that was a huge deal for the kids. Having those parents out and seeing that the arts are alive and well in our district was a huge thing.”
Winslow helped to start the summer music program in Washington County schools in 2016. As a masters student at Southern Utah University, she chose to organize a summer music program for students in grades 6-9. For a fee, students were able to receive more music training as they enjoyed their summer break, and the program has grown in the intervening years.
Last year, due to the pandemic, the summer music program was shelved and it was uncertain whether the program would be able to return this year. Winslow said that parents were the driving force behind the renewed program.
“This year we had an amazing group of parents that came forward and said, ‘We want this again,’” Winslow said. “They petitioned the school board to bring it back. Not only did the school board bring it back, but they decided along with district administrators to offer it for free.”
The summer program was also an opportunity for district music teachers to collaborate and to learn from each other. Kirsten Candland, an orchestra teacher, said she was excited to work with other orchestra teachers in the district.
“It was good for my professional development just to be able to see what some of these other teachers do,” Candland said. “Each instructor got to work with multiple groups at different levels, and it was fun to watch other instructors teach both levels because the approach is different.”
Candland also said the final performance was one of her favorite highlights from the two-week program and added that it’s nice to be able to offer summer music opportunities in addition to the sports or athletic programs already available.
The mission statement of the fine arts department for Washington County schools is to provide students with a well-rounded education through the study of drama, dance, music and visual arts. According to Schmidt, the benefits of learning music and other arts are numerous.
“Fine arts develop creativity, diligence, patience, expression and teamwork,” he said. “There are many scientific studies that show the benefits of fine arts with students in their education, including higher student attendance, lower dropout rates, fewer fights, greater understanding of diversity and greater peer support.”
With the summer music program concluded, Schmidt said students and community members can look forward to more opportunities for students to showcase their talents and for parents and friends to come out and enjoy the shows.
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