Jenda Nye, public information specialist, Cache County School District
Ask Lily, a student at Wellsville Elementary, what she likes most about learning to play the viola and she’s quick to answer, “My awesome teacher!” Lily is one of 72 sixth graders across Cache County School District participating in the Junior Chamber Orchestra (JCO).
The JCO is a pilot program currently offered to students in elementary schools on the south end of the district. It was designed to prevent orchestra participants from experiencing a gap between their fifth-grade year at the elementary school and their seventh-grade year in middle school.
Previously, students could begin playing a string instrument in fourth and fifth grade with the Mountain West String Academy, then transition into their middle school orchestra in sixth grade. However, as new district grade configurations moved sixth grade to elementary school, it became necessary to redesign the program.
As part of the pilot program, five “host site” schools offer a location for neighboring elementary students to meet and practice four days a week, before regular school hours. Although parents provide transportation to orchestra practice, busses are available afterward to take students to their schools.
Instruction, at almost every location, is led by a middle school or high school teacher. This gives students the unique opportunity to build relationships that will continue well beyond sixth grade. It also ensures that participants receive instruction from licensed, established educators in the school district.
Another unique benefit the JCO offers is the opportunity for sixth-graders to collaborate with older students. For example, on Nov. 15, student musicians from all five JCO host schools joined South Cache Middle School orchestra students for an evening concert. Their selections of music ranged from “The Addams Family” to “Battle of the Ancient Dragons.”
Aurora Villa, the K-12 district arts coordinator, believes there’s great value in these collaborations. “The combined concerts provide JCO students opportunities to perform with their sixth-grade peers in a large ensemble experience, as well as collaborate with orchestra students in the secondary grades,” she said. “They are invaluable in motivating students to continue with orchestra at the secondary school level.” Similar collaborative concerts will be hosted this winter at Mountain Crest and Ridgeline, where the JCO will play with high school students.
This innovative approach to creating a sixth-grade orchestra has students, parents and teachers enthusiastic about the potential and progress of the program. Instructor Joel Yoder appreciates the bridge that the JCO provides between elementary and middle school. “The program is an important step in the transition between the Mountain West String Academy experience and the orchestra class that students will be attending in middle school,” he said.
William Everitt, whose two granddaughters play in the orchestra, is also impressed with the program. “I’m glad my grandchildren have the opportunity to participate,” he said. “Their ability to play has improved, and they haven’t been at it that long. I like that the teachers are teaching them the fundamentals.”
While the pilot program is still in its first year, district administrators are hopeful that it will continue, even expand, next year. “The plan is to implement the program on the north end of the district, too,” Aurora said. “With this transition, it’s exciting to anticipate that students can begin learning a string instrument with the Mountain West String Academy as early as fourth grade, then continue playing and developing their musical skills until they graduate from high school, without any pauses.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the Junior Chamber Orchestra, please contact Aurora at firstname.lastname@example.org.