Bridging The Gap between Middle School and High School – Part 1: What DIRECTORS Can Do
Tips For Ensuring A Seamless Music Education Experience, Curated from the Music Achievement Council and the NAMM Foundation –
Students continue to participate in our music education programs because they cannot imagine school without the meaningful engagement that our courses provide. Yet, for one reason or another, not all of our students continue their participation throughout their high school years. In fact, it’s the transition from middle school to high school that has been identiﬁed as being the most crucial period in retaining our students.
The key to successful retention is ACTION. On the next pages are a number of strategies that successful instrumental music educators and their constituents use to ensure a seamless transition from the ﬁrst day that the student picks up their instrument through high school graduation—and beyond.
What DIRECTORS Can Do…
High school and middle school directors must think of themselves as one faculty that works together on a consistent basis to provide one sequential program for each participant.
- Partner with middle school directors to plan a variety of recruitment activities with the elementary school so that the instrumental music program is viewed as a sequential program that concludes with high school graduation.
- Provide an annual assembly at the elementary school(s) in full regalia. The high school band can march through the school to an energetic cadence to bring all students into the performance venue and, at some point during the concert, choose an elementary student to conduct the band. This is when students are the most impressionable, and a performance like this will predispose students to playing in the high school program.
- Attend “Instrument Night” when students are selecting their instruments for the ﬁrst time. This works to ensure that parents meet the high school director and see the continuum within the program. Students will subsequently discover a comfort zone of familiarity as they progress from one school to the next.
- Host a “Marching Band Night” at the high school with the eighth-graders from the middle school(s) featured prominently in the halftime show. Middle school directors should be involved in the planning and should be invited to conduct in this performance. To ensure their subsequent participation, make this an exceptional and memorable experience that guarantees success for these younger musicians.
- Work with middle school directors to provide a free “Summer Lesson Program” for beginning students. Students will become acquainted with the high school director(s) in a more individualized, casual setting right from the very beginning, plus it positions the program as one that continues through high school.
- Visit the middle school(s) in a variety of contexts to enjoy the product of those programs. This can include the high school directors providing a clinic for the band, directing sectionals or simply observing rehearsals to get to know the students better. A “thumbs up” from the high school director provides positive reinforcement to the middle school students.
- Show respect and continuity by attending the middle school concerts (and middle school directors can do the same by attending high school concerts) and encouraging students to do so as well. Directors should consider offering extra credit for concert attendance. Another very positive example that students take note of is to participate in each other’s concerts in some signiﬁcant way— conducting a selection, emceeing the performance, making presentations, etc. The key is for the high school director to become a familiar face in all aspects of the middle school program and vice versa.
- Host ensemble(s) from the middle school(s). This will demonstrate the sequential development and expectations of the entire program. Because this concert would take place in the high school auditorium, middle school students will easily visualize themselves playing while in high school and parents will visualize their students participating at this level. The directors should work together to provide a ﬁnale in which the high school and middle school students perform together.
- Invite the middle school students to play with the high school pep band and make it fun. Have the high school students make welcome signs and name tags. Have a little pregame rehearsal and follow it up with some pizza. Ask the basketball coach and the principal to stop by and welcome the middle school students.
- Organize a monthly checklist for recruiting students from the middle school to the high school. Stick to it. Make the list speciﬁc with due dates and action items. The less time there is needed to think about what to do, the more time there is to accomplish these tasks.
- Host a “Parent Night” where the high school students teach the parents of the middle school students how to play while they demonstrate how worthwhile it is to be in the high school program. Once the parents have participated, give each parent a certiﬁcate making them an “Honorary Band Member.”
- Create a recruiting page from the high school band website that provides a variety of student photos. Get the e-mail addresses of the middle school students and e-mail them blasts about your program on a regular basis. Consider using other social media such as Facebook or Twitter.
- Work with the local pager and school newspaper publication to start a “Music Corner” to publicize the many achievements and community events provided by the school’s program—include photos. Approach local merchants who regularly advertise and ask them to devote a part of their ad to salute student achievement or to publicize an upcoming concert.
- Use technology in programing to demonstrate the school’s up-to-date program. If uploading performances, be sure the excerpts are quality. Consider having a student introduce the video clip. Consider how to incorporate the use of technology into teaching as well as homework assignments.
- Maintain high performance standards for students but be reasonable in demands on their time. Do not overburden them to the point that being in the program takes an inordinate amount of time away from their other activities. Never put students in a position where they HAVE to quit because the just do not have the amount of time required to participate. Think of their participation in music as one of many subjects they are taking in school. When you do have extra rehearsals or activities, make sure that their time is never wasted. Always provide a meaningful experience.
- Work with guidance counselors to guarantee that all students are scheduled appropriately. Develop a formatted schedule for college-bound students that shows how they can continue to participate in the program while taking all of their required coursework. Find out what the course of study would be for those who want to be music majors. If students and parents can see a carefully planned out schedule that shows how they can continue to participate in music and still be accepted into college, they are more likely to remain in the program.
- Make time to speak to the principal to ensure that he/she understands that when music class is over, music students are dispersed throughout the school. With those students comes the self-discipline and sense of teamwork that is routinely found in a music classroom. The behavior and habits formed in the music classroom carry over to the entire school.
- Ensure that students understand how much they are valued and how much they contribute to the overall ensemble as individuals. Do not allow them to just quit. Remember, praise pays. Be speciﬁc in your praise of student behavior or performance. Personal messages, handwritten notes and phone calls to parents are but a few ways to recognize students.
GO ON TO PART 2 – What Parents Can Do