In late spring, the Washoe County School District announced that due to budget cuts, new teacher allocations would cut six and a half positions from Sparks High School with one of them being the beloved music program.
Parents, teachers, and students were shocked and dismayed to learn of the news and desperately began trying to raise funds to keep the Marching Symphonic Band, Concert Choir, and Advanced Choir Programs for the 2017-18 school year.
One member of the Sparks HS Marching Band stated, “It came to my concern that Sparks High School will no longer have a marching or concert band. Why would you guys want to take that away – from not just me – but other band members? All of these kids have been working hard all year and were looking forward to marching and playing next year too. All of the kids in the band are musically talented but what will we do with that talent now? What are we supposed to do now that our passion was taken away? How do you think people are going to react when they hear that the oldest school in the city of Sparks is getting their band cut?”
Fortunately, the students do not have to worry about it anymore as private donors and organizations came through with the funds. Reaching its goal on Friday, July 28, Sparks High School will be hiring a part-time music teacher this week.
“We’re high-fiving all around,” says Sparks High School Principal Kevin Carroll. “When we initially lost the teacher allocations in late spring, word got around and we reached out to the community for support. They came through for us and we’re so excited for our kids. It was detrimental to lose this allocation so now we’re making adjustments to the schedule to bring the band and choir back in,” he adds.
Although the Sparks High School music program is fully equipped with instruments, sheet music, and uniforms, significant Washoe County School District budget cuts in the form of teacher allocations and affecting all WCSD learning institutions across the region. Sparks High School took a major hit by losing 6.5 teachers with the priority being to only keep core classes. Since the music program is considered an elective, the band and choir classes were cut.
With the gifts amounting to $45,000, Sparks High School is now able to hire a music teacher to carry the Railroaders through the 2017-18 school year. The school hopes that student enrollment will rise in subsequent years to provide funds to sustain the program.
Even though Sparks High School is designated as a Title I school, unfortunately Title I funds cannot be used for elective courses. Sparks High School had 1,198 students enrollment rate in the 2015-16 year and in 2016-17, around 68 percent of Sparks HS students qualified for the free/reduced lunch program (almost double the district average). Over half of the students were at risk to drop out of school, and many who were attending Sparks Middle School in 2013 are still impacted by the 2013 school shooting.
Research has shown that elective classes such as music and arts programs are instrumental in helping keep students engaged and on track to graduate. Hug High School found that students who participated in its music programs had a graduation rate of 84 percent- 10 percent over the school’s overall graduation rate.
Founded in 1909, the Sparks High School marching band has been an integral part of the school and community. The marching band and choirs continuously participate in favorite Northern Nevada events including the Veterans Day Parade in Reno, the Sparks Hometown Christmas Parade, and the Nevada Day Parade held at the state’s capital in Carson City. The Sparks HS Choir has performed for those in assisted living facilities, feeder schools in the community, and other events around Sparks and Reno on a year-round basis.
All music classes meet four days a week to practice as well as participate at school sporting and community events outside of school hours. The marching band and Concert Choir are open to any student in all grade levels. Students with mild to severe learning disabilities in the Comprehensive Life Skills (CLS) program may also participate in the school choir, helping them to build important social interacting and team skills to augment their educational experience.
In the 2017 school year, 39 students participated in the Sparks HS marching band, 22 students sang in the choir, and 12 students participated in the school’s Advanced Choir program.