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Parents create group to take load off Forest Grove performing arts teachers

Choir, band and drama leaders can use help after budget cuts add new duties
by: Courtesy photo Choir director Barry Berdahl puts his students through their paces during a concert at Forest Grove High School. This year he’s also leading the school’s drama department.

A small but hardy group of fans is forming a Performing Arts Parents Club to help lighten the load of teachers leading choir, band and drama classes at Forest Grove High School and Neil Armstrong Middle School in the wake of last spring's budget cuts.

Evelyn Orr, parent of FGHS sophomore choir student Aaron Orr, is spearheading the move by gathering names of parents and others interested in helping to organize costumes, set up for performances, check in dresses and tuxedos and file sheet music for choir and drama director Barry Berdahl and orchestra and band leader Leonard Ostwalt.

They might also perform sewing and alteration tasks, decorate the school lobby before performances and record concerts for DVD sales.

'Our mission is to support the teachers in doing what they can't always do in order to allow them to teach and to do their jobs,' said Orr, who lives in Forest Grove.

So far, the PAPC has had two organizational meetings, one in January and another last Wednesday. Orr said the panel of parents stands ready to take on tasks set out by Ostwalt and Berdahl in hopes that - no matter how arts electives fare in this spring's Forest Grove School District budget season - programs already in place can continue unabated.

'I see this group being very important in the years to come,' Orr said. 'I'm sure we will know more after the budget talks how and if [we'll be] further impacted in the arts.'

Berdahl, who leads Forest Grove High's Chorale, concert choir, treble choir and DaCapo choir, this year has also taken on duties as drama teacher, most recently directing the spring musical 'The Sound of Music,' which showcased drama, choir, band and orchestra students.

Ostwalt, longtime band director at FGHS, also is tending to the orchestra program at the high school this year.

Orr said the group's focus would not be on fundraising - at least at first.

'I wouldn't say we're a booster club exactly, because that falls more in the fundraising arena,' said Orr, who has recruited parents Brad Coffey, Karen Torry and several others to aid the cause. 'For me, it's pulling people together who, even if they don't have money to donate, can still help take the load off the teachers.'

Still, she left room for the PAPC to host events and money in the future.

Coffey, a former Cornelius city councilor, has started a website, www.fghsarts.com, to get the word out about the club.

For Orr, providing a support system for arts instructors throughout the local district - including choir and music teacher Dot Boles Van Dyke at Neil Armstrong, who's indicated her interest in assistance - is rewarding because of the connection students feel to their classes.

'My son Aaron loves choir. He'd give up everything else to keep it,' Orr said. 'I'm very passionate about this project because of him.'

And, the parents are only too happy to come to the aid of teachers they appreciate.

'I don't know how they do it, but these teachers are amazing and great with the kids,' Orr noted.

She and the others are currently recruiting parents and slotting them into tasks the teachers have identified. 'I have a good list of volunteers who want to help,' she said, 'but more are always welcome.'

For additional information about the PAPC, call Orr at 503-705-0661 or e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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