Eastpointe Community Schools is implementing a fifth grade band program at its two upper elementary schools, Pleasantview Elementary, seen here, and Bellview Elementary.
Photo: Caitlyn Kienitz
Eastpointe Community Schools is expanding its band program to include the fifth grade students at its two upper elementary schools, Pleasantview Elementary and Bellview Elementary.
Wesley Noeyack, the Eastpointe High School band and choir director, led the charge for this expansion.
“They brought it back because they thought if we started expanding the program at the lower levels, it would give us the opportunity to cultivate those students and help them grow, and help their interest peak earlier to give them the opportunity to be in band more, and give them a more well-rounded experience starting in middle school,” Noeyack said.
The program began officially Jan. 30, when students could try different instruments and see what might be a good fit.
John Boren, who previously had worked for several school districts in Michigan, including Eastpointe Community Schools, came out of retirement for the seventh time to help set up the new classes and get them running properly.
“I retired the first time in 1994, and I love what I’m doing, and I have a reputation in the state,” Boren said. “They wanted me to come back and get this program going. This is going to take a few years to develop, and then I will find a new young person out of college to take over and lead this new program.”
The new program will be a full class held during the day in which the students will separate and practice in their various sections, such as woodwinds, brass instruments or percussion.
“The fifth grade band program will focus on the basics of learning how to play an instrument and give them what they will need to advance in music when they move up to the middle school band program,” said Boren. “It is scheduled as a class during the day, three times a week.”
The expansion was done at this time because the district’s leaders believed they had the resources to do so.
“The district thought they had the funds to implement this program at this point in time,” Noeyack said.
“They are buying new instruments and repairing existing instruments that are damaged to meet the needs of all of our students in band.”
Boren said this was a step in reversing the reduction of fine arts programming that the district had been forced to implement in recent years.
“This is the first year in many, many years that the district has gotten band back in the elementary schools,” he explained. “This used to be one of the finest music programs in the state. The directors here were superb. We kept losing students until the high school band got down to 18 students. The interest from the (school) board and from the district in band has allowed the high school band to grow, allowed them to hire new band directors in the middle schools and bring me back to get the fifth grade bands going.”
Boren added that the new initiative will include the purchase of new instruments for the district, but will not require any additional money from families beyond a rental fee for the instruments.
“There is a proposal going before the board to purchase 42 new instruments to add to the inventory.
Families can lease these instruments through the district, which is $30 a month, and that covers theft, covers insurance and covers damage,” he said. “It’s a great deal.”
Noeyack said this new initiative is popular with both students and staff.
“The students are interested in wanting to grow musically, and the district is encouraging the students by giving them more opportunities through music,” he remarked. “The district is really supportive in wanting to make sure students are successful in music, and we are working very closely with our band teachers to make sure this program gets the support it needs.”
Boren stressed how important early music education is and how it benefits kids in several ways.
“Before they fall more into habits, the students need a foundation,” he said. “Music teaches structure, math, language and more. Fine arts programs develop all of that. You need fine arts programs. You should see an improvement in these kids in the spring. This will mean improvements in reading, in mathematics and in listening skills.”
He said he is optimistic about the outcome of the new classes, but that their success can only be proven by how much they help students.
“(The district is) purchasing instruments, they’re purchasing music, they’re purchasing time — by which I mean they are paying to have teachers cover the extra classes this will mean,” he said. “I am so pleased. Now we just have to produce.”