Music teacher Justin Ratzburg leads Trafalgar Middle School band students during a performance on Dec. 16. Trafalgar has made band classes free and mandatory for all Grade 6 students. Photo: Tyler Harper

‘An amazing cultural shift:’ Trafalgar Middle School bets on unique band program

Band is now free and mandatory for Grade 6 students

Justin Ratzburg couldn’t help but be a little concerned.

Last year, Trafalgar Middle School’s band featured around 65 kids. This year nearly 200 students would be performing in two December concerts prior to the holiday break.

Ratzburg, who moved to Nelson this year from Vancouver to teach music at Trafalgar and L.V. Rogers, wasn’t sure how it would sound when so many new students made their public debuts. But that anxiety ended when the concert began.

“I was really happy with their performance. They were all practising really hard and they all played in time together, and that was really a miracle,” said Ratzburg.

“I guess I had my doubts, I had my worries. There was a chance it would completely fall apart, but they’re all good musicians. It’s a natural ability and they’ve followed through and did a great performance. I couldn’t be happier, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Trafalgar’s band isn’t just special because it can play “Ode To Joy.” The school has made its music program mandatory and, crucially, free for all Grade 6 students as of last September.

Previously, music was optional for Trafalgar’s Grade 6 to 8 students. Parents were asked to pay $100 to cover the cost of an instrument rental, although that fee was covered by School District 8 if it was a barrier to entry.

Now Grade 6 students participate in band and, if they choose, carry on with it in Grade 7 and 8 as an elective.

Ratzburg said it’s rare for a B.C. school to make music a core subject, especially on the scale of Trafalgar’s program.

“It’s become pretty common for it to be an after or before school activity,” said Ratzburg.

But principal Paul Luck is betting music education will lead to a happier, more academically successful school.

“It’s an amazing cultural shift,” said Luck. “The kids walking around with their band instruments, it brings a lot of joy to our hearts in our school and kids are very excited about it.”

The emphasis on music education is part of what Luck describes as a renewed focus on student mental health at Trafalgar and within the district.

In November, the Ministry of Education announced a $2-million investment in school-based mental health programming. School District 8, which received $30,500 from the ministry, has hired Javier Gonzalez as a co-ordinator of school mental health and addictions while also adding counselling and intervention services.

Superintendent Christine Perkins said she believes the benefits of music education aren’t limited to academic success.

“Music has a lot of positive benefits in addition to also helping ironically with numeracy results. It helps lift depression, it helps people relate to people and build empathy.”

For Trafalgar, that mental health focus has resulted in small changes such as the addition of a spin bike room for students who need what Luck describes as a calming activity, or larger scale initiatives like the expanded music program.

Luck said accommodations have even been made to include two students with hearing disabilities in the Grade 6 band.

“What I’ve seen is once you’ve joined a band, you’ve make friends for life,” said Luck. “I see that all over our community. So I think band is an important thing for us at this school because if you are trying to model for students how to get along with each other, how to work collaboratively, then band is the perfect venue for that.”

Ratzburg said typically only a fraction of students from a grade join band. Now he’s excited for the future of music in Nelson with more kids being exposed to a music program.

“It’s quite a vision, but I think it’s an excellent way to re-amp music culture in town,” he said. “Where other band and music programs are dwindling and falling apart, this one’s getting better. It’s great.”



tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

West Kootenay SAR crews rescue injured mountain biker near Rossland

Crews were called in to help after the biker seriously injured himself at around noon Saturday

Nelson teachers union president worried about members ahead of return to classes

Carla Wilson says there are a lot of questions remaining

Pop-up drive-in theatre shows Only in Nelson

The event was a collaboration between the Civic Theatre and Kootenay Co-op Radio

Suspected fentanyl and cocaine seized during RCMP search in Castlegar

Two men were taken into police custody during the search warrant

Morning start: This is the fastest growing city in the Kootenays

Here is your Kootenays’ morning start for Monday, May 25

Help the Nelson Star continue its mission to provide trusted local news

Black Press is now accepting donations to keep its papers operating

Kelowna man charged with harming a hamster

The 20-year-old Kelowna man faces several animal cruelty charges

High tech fish transport system set up to ‘whoosh’ salmon past Big Bar landslide

Fish will spend roughly 20 seconds inside the system, moving at roughly 20 metres per second

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Snowbirds jets will not be leaving Kamloops, just yet

The Snowbirds have been in Kamloops since May 17 when a plane crashed killing Capt. Jennifer Casey

COVID-19 checkpoints ‘up to them,’ Bonnie Henry says of remote B.C. villages

Support local tourism economy, but only if you’re invited in

Vancouver Island hasn’t seen a new homegrown case of COVID-19 in two weeks

Island’s low and steady transmission rate chalked up to several factors

Eight people arrested in Victoria homeless camp after enforcement order issued

Those living in tents were given until May 20 to move indoors

Most Read