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

School District 8: No visiting Chinese students have coronavirus

SD8 says its international students have already been screened for the virus

COLUMN: Slocan Valley environmentalist deserves thanks for tenacity

Marilyn Burgoon stepped in when no one else would to ensure justice in the Lemon Creek fuel spill

VIDEO: Nelson’s Emily Taylor wins bronze at junior weightlifting nationals

Taylor was competing in Edmonton as part of Team B.C.

Leafs clinch playoff spot with weekend road wins

Brandon Costa scored twice in his debut with Nelson

West Kootenay snowpack nearing record levels

High snowpack can mean a greater risk of flooding in spring, say forecasters

B.C. reports first coronavirus in Vancouver region

First patient visited Wuhan, China, reported symptoms

Opioid crisis to blame for shorter life expectancy in B.C. men, says Stats Can

Opioid crisis held responsible for declining life expectancy

Earthquake on top of highway closure a wake up call for Island’s West Coast

“When someone says, ‘Be prepared for 72 hours,’ that means exactly that: be prepared.”

Pregnant B.C. woman stuck in Wuhan, the epicentre of coronavirus outbreak

Woman is due to give birth in Wuhan, China unless she can get out

After four sexual assaults in the same B.C. park, RCMP ask women not to walk alone

Four sexual assaults took place in Glen Park over two months

Taxi association asks B.C. Supreme Court to stop Uber, Lyft from operating

Petition alleges Passenger Transportation Board did not take taxis into account

Majority of Canadian boards had no female members in 2016 and 2017: StatCan

Statistics Canada says 18.1 per cent of director seats were held by women in 2017

Swapping grape varieties can help winemakers adapt to climate change: UBC study

Report says 56% of wine-grape-growing regions would be lost if global climate warms by 2 C

Alberta premier wants feds to approve Teck mine for benefit of First Nations

Kenney: ‘Surely [reconciliation] means saying yes to economic development for First Nations people’

Most Read