The NAMM Foundation’s Best Communities for Music Education (BCME) award program acknowledges schools and districts across the United States for their commitment to and support for music education. For the past 22 years, the Foundation’s BCME program has recognized districts and individual schools throughout the country. This year, The NAMM Foundation recognized 686 school districts with a BCME distinction and 80 individual schools with the SupportMusic Merit Award (SMMA).
The NAMM Foundation celebrates and recognizes outstanding music education programs in the United States and the communities that support them. Recognition is determined by a survey developed in partnership with the Music Research Institute at the University of Kansas with questions aligned “with goals for equity and access to music education for all students, and also with national standards for music education.”
Northwestern Lehigh School District in eastern Pennsylvania is home to Weisenberg Elementary, a 2020 SMMA school. The school takes “deep pride in developing a nurturing child-centered environment," and music educators Carol Gacesa and Lora Krum amplify this sentiment through the power of music. We spoke with both educators about the impact of the SMMA distinction and the BCME program.
Why is a SMMA distinction imperative for schools?
The SMMA distinction is imperative for schools in our current times, bringing awareness within our school, district, and community about the vital role music has in our student's education. The SMMA highlights the cooperation, creativity, and support shown amongst music staff, administrators, and the community to support quality music education. The distinction also helps our district realize the importance music plays in student lives and well-being. Finally, the SMMA allows us, as individual educators and as a team, to reflect and recognize our musical goals and achievements and help our music staff to feel energized to continue serving our students with the best musical opportunities possible.
What changes have occurred at your school since earning the SMMA?
Because of our current teaching situation, due to the pandemic, everything has changed, so it has been challenging to assess the full impact of this distinction. However, we are grateful that during the most challenging times, music education has remained relevant and our program has received consistent support from the administration and the community. We look forward to continuing our involvement in SMMA and BCME and being able to fully explore the potential these awards provide.
What advice do you have for other schools looking to earn the SMMA?
Our advice for other schools looking to earn the SMMA distinction would be to work with your colleagues and administrators to gather data and build a portfolio based on your music department's achievements. Working towards and earning the SMMA distinction allowed us as educators to take a moment, reflect and critique our program's strengths, achievements, and growths. It truly made us think about the opportunities provided to our students within the building and outside in the community. We would highly recommend taking the time to apply because if you are recognized, your music program is held more prominently in the hearts and minds of your school and community.
Why did you decide to apply for BCME in 2021?
We decided to apply for the BCME in 2021 because we believe that our entire district’s music department went above and beyond during these trying times to provide our students with the best music education possible. We are grateful for the motivation and initiative of our colleagues. As the team reflected on projects and the musical experiences we shared, we not only became more aware of common goals but also our uniqueness. It has been a valuable experience to share our visions and ideas in more concrete ways and keep our music program alive and thriving!
Fargo Public Schools is another long-time award recipient in the Best Communities for Music Education program, earning a BCME distinction for 18 years. The school district in eastern North Dakota provides numerous music education opportunities to its students including, daily classes for kindergarten and first-grade students, co-curricular music and performing arts activities for upper elementary students, large and small group instruction for middle school students, and a range of more specialized programs at the high school level.
We recently spoke with Ainsley Fiedler Rentfrow, Fargo Public Schools (FPS) performing arts curriculum specialist, about the district's BCME tenure and the impact the designation has had on their students.
Why is it imperative for school districts to apply for the BCME distinction?
As we know too well, music education is something we continually need to fight for. The BCME distinction is more proof of the importance of the resources provided for music programs. In these times, music-making feels threatened. With health and safety concerns like the spread of aerosols, in-person group gatherings, etc., music programs are something many people still have concerns about resuming. This distinction continues the important work of painting music education in a positive light.
What impact has the BCME distinction had on the district?
Receiving the BCME award has continually supported our district’s music program. Our students, teachers, school board, and community are proud of our music programs and support them as a direct result of earning this distinction. The positive impacts of music education on students are well known, but there are also difficult decisions made at the district level. By winning this award, it validates our program. It gives us another piece of armor in the fight for music education and proves that the resources put towards our music programs are imperative and should continue. It shows that we are committed to providing outstanding music education to our students that enrich their learning and lives.
Do you have any advice for districts looking to apply for the first time?
Do it! It may seem daunting when you first begin, but it is worth it. Also, the process opens your eyes to the larger picture. When you need to dig into where funding comes from, the percentage of music educators with a master’s degree, the enrollment in music courses, etc., it continually keeps you examining the data. As I have applied, it not only continues to grow the pride I have in our programs, but it also shows me areas where we need to continue to work.
How has your district prioritized music education in the rapidly evolving education situation?
Knowing the imperative role music plays in student’s lives always, but especially with the current challenges, FPS has continued to support music education through this challenging year. As we thought of ways to keep musical opportunities available for students, we were supported and encouraged to be innovative in our music education and programs. While some things like traditional, live performance were not possibilities at the beginning of the school year, we have been encouraged to bring these opportunities back when we are ready (following appropriate safety protocols). Throughout this year, our district has trusted us to make the educated decisions regarding music and has supported those decisions.
Congratulations to all the Best Communities for Music Education award recipients! To learn more about the program, please visit https://www.nammfoundation.org/what-we-do/best-communities-music-education. For more information about Weisenberg Elementary, visit https://www.nwlehighsd.org/WEIS and for Fargo Public Schools https://www.fargo.k12.nd.us/.