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Bringing back the band

Fifth-graders key in restoring band program at Mountain View

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Fifth-graders that were bused in from their elementary schools play their instruments during band practice at Mountain View Middle School.Ana Reyes doesn’t know yet if she’ll play in the band when she reaches middle school, but the Errol Hassell Elementary School fifth-grader is getting a much better idea of whether she likes it.

Ana is among about 90 fifth-graders taking part in a pilot band program that started last month at Mountain View Middle School.

“I like that we’re progressing every time,” Ana said before a recent practice. “I’m pretty happy with my flute.”

“I took piano and it just seemed interesting to do another instrument,” agreed classmate Annalea Garcia.

Fifth-grade band programs once were common in the Beaverton School District.

“Over the years, through budget cuts and the recession, it went away,” said Blake Allen, a teacher on special assignment overseeing the district’s fine arts programs. “I think since it went away there’s been interest in bringing it back.”

The Mountain View program serves only students from the school’s five feeder schools: Chehalem, Cooper Mountain, Errol Hassell, Hazeldale and Kinnaman elementary schools.

But if it plays well on the campus in Aloha, the experience could potentially serve as a template for returning band programs to more fifth-graders across the district, Allen said.

Already the pilot is showing success, with nearly double the anticipated 50 students signing up for the program and many of the 10- and 11-year-olds picking up musical concepts quickly.

Students get bused to Mountain View from their elementary schools on Tuesdays and Thursdays and are fed a snack before the practice begins.TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Khaileeh Lopez Arreola, a fifth-grader at Chehalem Elementary School, warms up by playing the mouthpiece to her trumpet during band practice at Mountain View Middle School.

The district bought $20,000 worth of instruments and also is paying $5,000 for teacher stipends. Buses are shared with other middle school clubs and the district’s Nutrition Services department covers the snacks with existing programs.

Students’ families were charged $25 for participation and $30 for instrument cleaning and maintenance, but both fees were waived for low-income students.

Ashley Alexander, the second-year band director at Aloha High School, said the Aloha area’s band programs suffered during staff cuts and reassignments several years ago. Mountain View and Aloha High were among schools hardest hit during that period.

Alexander’s program now has 70 high-schoolers, including several who volunteer with the Mountain View program, but he said he wants to continue rebuilding it over the coming six years to the 200 members it once served. He said the key is getting students involved as fifth-graders, before they are faced with choosing electives in middle school.

“You have to start at the bottom and this is the bottom,” Alexander said.

“I want to get off to an early start on learning how to play the trumpet,” said Keegan Daley, an Errol Hassell student thinking about taking band when he gets to Mountain View in September.

A few minutes later, the students divided into three rooms based on their instruments of choice. Later they will come together, but in the early going, three instructors are teaching notes and other basic skills.

In the brass room, Alexander paced his group of new trombone and trumpet players through warmups, first by making revving “motorcycles” through their mouthpieces and then repeating snippets of tunes ranging from “The Flintstones” to “La Cucaracha.”

Then it was on to the day’s lessons, the first notes in bringing the band back together.