By John Burton
RED BANK – The sound of young aspiring musicians, drawing their bows across the strings of the violins and cellos, will again be heard in the Red Bank public schools – if parents, school administrators and the Red Bank Education Foundation have their way.
“I think it’s a wonderful program and we’re doing what we can to reinstate it,” parent Cathy Costa said of the 10-year-old strings program that was cut for budgetary reasons.
One of the participants, 9-year-old Josiah Gray, said the strings program awakened his interest in music and now “the cello speaks to me.
“I like it because I think music is a language for people around the world to communicate,” Josiah said.
Parent Wayne Woolley called the program “a crown jewel for this district.” His two daughters, who are now 10 and 8, have been participating since they were in kindergarten, both playing violin. “It’s something that makes this district so special.”
Woolley, Costa and other parents have been working with the new superintendent of schools, Jared Rumage, and the Red Bank Education Foundation to garner the funding needed to bring the program back for the coming school year. The effort is called “Keep the Music Alive.”
Most of those involved say collecting enough money to reinstate the full program as it has operated for the coming school year is unlikely but they are working hard to get it back in some form.
Rumage and Red Bank Board of Education President Ben Forest have said it would cost about $85,000 to reinstate the in-school strings musical instrument instructional program. That is what it costs to have a full-time teacher for the program, including salary and benefits, according to Rumage.
The program initially was established with an anonymous donation to the district of $100,000 plus an $8,000 contribution made by the now defunct Red Bank Education Initiative about a decade ago. That allowed the district to acquire and maintain instruments and get the program up and running.
Faced with difficult financial choices, the board “reluctantly” decided to cut the program for the coming school year for budgetary considerations, Forest said. “We faced an unprecedented financial challenge on many levels” for the 2014-15 school year with district taxpayers already seeing a 10 percent tax increase.
“I’ve been contacted by parents in a moving way, that music has played a significant role for children who were struggling” academically, Forest said.
“It was one of those tough choices you have to make,” Rumage said.
The group working to get strings back in the district’s primary and middle schools is aiming more modestly then reinstating the full program for this year. Parents and administration are hoping to raise $10,000 to have the program function as an after-school or early-morning extra-curricula program.
“We definitely want to bring the program back at some point in full capacity when we can,” Rumage said, hoping to be able to have it fully in place maybe as early as the 2015-16 school year.
The group is soliciting contributions through a number of ways. The public can make donations by linking to a PayPal account accompanying a YouTube “Keep The Music Alive” video showing students performing and explaining the program’s importance; at www.RBBEF.org/support; by mailing checks to the Red Bank Education Foundation, 76 Branch Ave. Red Bank, NJ, 07701; or by texting “strings” to 40691.
The group also is looking for available grants to assist in its efforts, members said.
Kim Stiles, the strings teacher in the Red Bank district, who is now on maternity leave, said there were 120 primary and middle students in the program with a waiting list of about 100 more.
The program “means opportunity, really,” she said. Some students were then able to enroll in the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts at Red Bank Regional High School. Some were able to major in strings there and then earn scholarships to college after starting with the strings program as young children.
She was disheartened when the board decided to eliminate the program. “It really was a blow to all that hard work we put into building the program over the years,” Stiles said.
Programs like this are “not a luxury. You have to educate the whole child,” she said.
Some of the program’s students performed on Saturday, July 26, on Monmouth Street, during the downtown shopping district’s sidewalk sale weekend with hopes of attracting public attention for the program.
Costa said her daughter Lily, who is almost 7 and will be entering second grade in September, has been taking violin lessons since kindergarten. “She absolutely loves to play the violin” and has made remarkable strides with the instrument, the proud mom said.
For a district with a high level of students from underprivileged families – nearly 90 percent of the student population qualify for the free and reduced cost lunch program – the program gives kids an opportunity they may not have otherwise, Costa said.
“They work so hard” to learn the music and master the instrument, said Cheryl DeLorenzo, whose 11-year-old daughter, Emma, and son, Dino, 6, both play the violin. “To see it come together is a joy.”
Rosie Perry said the program definitely benefits the participating students. Her daughter, Sarah, 9, is a shy child who has come out of her shell thanks to her violin lessons and performances with the group. Sarah can read music and takes more of an interest in her traditional school lessons. In addition, “it gives her companionship,” working with other children, Perry said.
“I truly do believe music is for the soul what education is to the mind,” she said.
The program certainly contributes to the overall student development, many said.
“Every study I’ve read shows children involved in music learn better,” Woolley said.