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Connetquot High School Choral Arts Day

Connetquot High School, NY

190 7th St, Bohemia, NY 11716, USA
Connetquot Central School District
Director: Brad Drinkwater
Category: Retention Program
Award: Silver, 2020

Project Description

Connetquot High School Choral Arts Day was created five years ago to “bridge the gap” between our middle school and high school choral programs, develop a greater sense of belonging and camaraderie among choral students, and to decrease attrition. Of particular interest was fostering a sense of fraternity between the male students of all three schools, given that they are generally smaller in number than female students. Many students, but especially male students, face significant social pressures against participation in choral singing and have few opportunities to see men singing choral music. Choral Arts Day allows 17- and 18-year-old 12th graders to be role models for 13-and 14-year old 8th graders and help counteract those other, negative social influences. In addition to providing an opportunity to positively influence our younger choral students, it provides a venue for showcasing all of our choral ensembles, developing pride and spirit.

During Choral Arts Day, the eighth grade choir members from both middle schools travel to the high school during the school day to sing with each other, the high school choir students, and the high school choir directors. Though the schedule varies slightly each year, the event generally looks like this: Upon arrival, the 8th graders form a massed 8th grade choir to learn (by rote) a portion of a not-too-challenging new piece with the 9th grade choir director. This allows them to get used to working with their future choir director, meet each other, and learn a song to sing for (or with) the high school students later in the day — all without requiring any advance musical preparation by their choir directors. Then, the high school students are released from class and the 8th-12th graders form a Soprano/Alto and Tenor/Bass choir, led by the two other high school choir directors. The two choirs rehearse the pieces the high school students had previously learned, “catching up” the 8th graders. Finally, the students all eat lunch together, where they are encouraged to make new friends. After lunch, the 8th grade combined choir, all three high school choirs, and two high school show choirs perform one piece each for their peers. (Some years, we learn one common song for EVERYONE to sing, which we usually do in the round–for no audience but ourselves.) Finally, several high school students lead a Q&A period for the 8th grade students to ask their questions about singing in choir at the high school level.

Target Audience

The target audience for this event is the 8th grade chorus students from both of the school district middle schools, as well as the existing high school choir members. The high school choral students, plus the eight graders, generally total around 400 singers.

Overview of planning and execution process for this project

The first Choral Arts Day was held in 2014. Planning began in the spring, when a date was chosen (the Monday before Thanksgiving), and the five choir directors fine-tuned the schedule for the day and began to consider repertoire. When school resumed in September, the logistics of transportation, attendance, and supervision were finalized. The high school students began learning the music for the event (one song for each choir, plus one song each for the Tenor/Bass choir and Soprano/Alto choir). By design, the only work required of the middle school choir directors was to distribute and collect permission slips and arrange bus transportation to the high school.

Community Impact

It is my belief that this event has turned young singers for whom choral singing is “something they do” into people who recognize that choral singing is an important part of their life. It is a celebration of choral singing by those who derive joy from it and offers an opportunity for them to be with other like-minded young people. Additionally, it serves as a way to demonstrate to administrators just how many students eagerly participate in our school choirs. It is hard to forget the image (and sound!) of 400 young people singing together.

Overall budget

$0

Specific Budget Breakdown

There are no expenses associated with this project!

What was your total program enrollment during the prior school year?

400

What is your projected program enrollment for the current school year?

400

New or recurring project?

Recurring

How did you update/change this project from its previous occurrence?

Each year, we have tweaked the schedule for the day. After questioning if students got to interact with each other as much as we wanted, we switched a small-group instruction model where high school students served as instructors for younger students. We have also, at times, eliminated the Soprano/Alto and Tenor/Bass choirs in favor of one, enormous, 400-voice choir, as well. We’ve found each to be successful and, at the very least, gives those students who participate in the festival five years in a row a slightly different experience each time.

Challenges/obstacles that were encountered

One challenge we faced was that we couldn’t find an example of an in-district festival that looked quite like this to use as a model. It took a bit of a leap-of-faith to get over that and, thankfully, it worked beautifully. Another challenge was feeding 400 children at the same time in an auditorium. We’ve settled on a system of making pizza available to purchase (and parent volunteers to serve!) or allowing students to bring their own lunch, while making accommodations for those students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Measurement of the success/effectiveness of this project?

While it is very hard to quantify the effects of this annual tradition, I believe it has been a tremendous success in both reducing attrition and generating enthusiasm among our choral students. Despite declining overall school district enrollment, a wider variety of electives offered at the high school level, and additional scheduling challenges, our choral programs are thriving. Out of curiosity, I posed a question to my 11th- and 12th-grade students this year: “Is Choral Arts Day something we should continue each year?” Their responses were overwhelming. Regardless of if it increased enrollment in the choral program, they said, it was a transformative experience for the students who were there. That, they said (and I agree), makes it a success.

Advice for someone looking to replicate this project in their own community?

With so many students involved, organization is critical (down to assigning each choir rows of seats in the auditorium), name tags with name, grade, school, and voice part, and all of the staff involved being on the same page…but do it!

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