Stanley Thomas-Rose: Nevada Union choirs and arts decimated
When Nevada Union High School begins its fall semester a few weeks from now, the choir, band, drama, dance and other arts programs will be taking a devastating hit in enrollment that likely will decimate all the programs for years to come, and may end the remarkable traditions our high school has enjoyed since it opened in 1961.
A new yearlong course is now being required for all incoming freshman that eliminates the option of an elective class their freshman year. This new class — one semester of State Health Requirements and one semester of “Get Focused, Stay Focused” — has apparently been under consideration for years, but was implemented with no plan in place to avoid this predictable scheduling disaster.
Rod Baggett, the choir teacher, only found out about the pending catastrophe when visiting eighth grade students informed him they could not join choir as ninth graders. Apparently the other arts teachers were also blind-sided.
I found out about this fiasco while chaperoning the Nevada Union Choir tour to England during Easter break. Since April, I have spoken a number of times with Brett McFadden, the high school superintendent. I also presented the issue to the school board, and exchanged emails with Kelly Rhoden, the NU principal.
But the numbers are stark: this past year about 25 freshmen were part of the choir, so far only about six to eight have signed up for next year. Drama has been even more decimated, and band, dance and the other three arts programs are being hurt as well. The same effects are being seen at Bear River High.
Since Nevada Union opened 58 years ago, the choral program excelled under Don Baggett and now under his son, Rod Baggett. For over 50 years the choir included 200 to 300 students. Declining enrollment shrank the choir to just 75 members by the end of this past year, and now the school is effectively eliminating almost a third of that remainder.
Students will be allowed to take choir, band, drama, dance and the other arts classes after their freshman year, but these are four-year programs that build skills over time. Many of the students who might have become mainstays in the programs will probably not join at all, or will “drop in” as juniors or seniors without the skills and commitment that make these groups extraordinary.
Imagine the outcry if Nevada Union arbitrarily eliminated all freshmen from their sports programs without warning.
Brett McFadden, Kelly Rhoden and school board members say they support the arts programs at NU, and they assure me they have convened a committee to fix the problem eventually. That is too late. Good intentions are fine, but empty.
Fixing the schedule immediately would be actual support. “Get Focused, Stay Focused” is not more important than the arts programs and does not need to be required, whether or not the district spent money on a new curriculum. The health class could be taken any time during high school and does not need to be required freshman year.
If they actually supported the arts programs they would immediately contact every incoming freshman and give them the option to take those classes later. Rescheduling this late would certainly be messy, but getting our incoming freshmen involved from the start of high school in the remarkable NU choir, band, drama, dance, and art programs is worth the trouble and would demonstrate a real commitment to the arts programs. Doing nothing at this point risks the destruction of the very things that make Nevada Union unique.
I have been trying for months to get action on this without success. At a rehearsal of the Trinity Community Chorus last night, I spoke with an exceptional young singer who will be a freshman at NU, and cannot take chorus this fall. Please help me put pressure on the NU board and administration to fix this problem now. Our children deserve better.
Stanley Thomas-Rose lives in Grass Valley.
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