Carbondale is a Colorado Creative District, meaning that it is recognized by the state for making economic and social contributions through the arts. With its art galleries and regular concerts, art and music are part of Carbondale’s DNA. But, the rising cost of living now threatens arts opportunities in local schools. Next year, Crystal River Elementary School (CRES) will not be able to provide a music program.
Early this past school year, the CRES music teacher announced to the administration that she would not be returning next year. The teacher announced her exit in February, so the school posted the open job online and had a 12-week application period. Two musicians applied, but one was deterred by housing costs, and the other didn’t have a teaching license. Thus the job closed, and music programming was cut. In its place, CRES plans to create another STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) opportunity for its students.
CRES parents, concerned about kids not having equal access to creative resources through their public school, decided to take initiative. They created a petition in support of keeping music programming at CRES, and to raise awareness about the ongoing need to support teachers and art programs in the current economic environment.
“We’ve had some great responses come out of that,” said Beverly Patera, a CRES parent. “People [are] willing to do whatever it takes to keep the program alive.”
This petition, and the group of parents behind it, have a few main goals. The first is to permanently bring back music beginning with the 2024-2025 school year. The second is to create regular music experiences and exposure or kids next year without the formal program. The final goal is for CRES staff to be more transparent about the challenges they face.
One possible solution to bring back music can be found just a few miles downvalley at the Riverview School. Riverview faced a similar problem to CRES, where applicants didn’t have teaching licenses, but ended up supporting an applicant with provisional and accelerated licensing programs. Looking forward, this could be an option for CRES as well.
“We can work with people who are willing to look into [provisional licensing],” CRES Principal Aimee Brockman told The Sopris Sun. “We just didn’t have the right applicant this year.”
Beyond this, community outreach from parents has brought this issue to the attention of the local music community, and organizations like Jazz Aspen. Another idea for next year is to team up with organizations to have musicians come to the school and give kids an experience with music, even if it’s not necessarily formal instruction. Many parents are worried that this gap in music education will poorly set up young kids for their middle and high school music experience, so a main goal in these creative solutions is to somewhat prepare the third and fourth graders moving into middle school with music knowledge.
Looking beyond next year, the future remains uncertain. Asked if she thinks music will return after next school year, Principal Brockman said, “We go through a whole budget and staffing process every year. We’ll reevaluate when we have more information.”
Some parents aren’t satisfied with this inconclusive response. “For me, that’s not good enough,” said Aaron Aeschliman, another concerned parent. “I need a guarantee that music will come back.”
As it becomes more difficult to maintain staffing in schools, especially in the arts, it is more unrealistic to expect a perfect music teacher candidate to just appear on the doorstep of CRES. But, at the same time, there are creative solutions out there, and it is up to the school to be willing to try them out.
This issue extends beyond the elementary school. Staffing schools across the Valley is a growing challenge. Adaptation will necessitate community outreach, and parents working with the schools to provide the best possible learning environment for their children.