If one walks the halls at Avon Heritage North Elementary School after school you might be able to catch the orchestral sounds of music created by the young musicians under the guidance of the music department.
“It’s pretty action packed. It’s an extension of their day and it’s a very unique situation,” said Peggie Willet, the orchestra director and music teacher, about Avon Schools’ extended day initiative, now in its second year.
While the students meet after school, the music created in this space is part of the curriculum in a focused environment. The district has made efforts in coordinating schedules and transportation issues in order to provide the ability to undertake such a change.
“What’s wonderful about that is there aren’t any interruptions and in the past we’ve all been kind of competing for the kids’ attention between study hall and maybe a student needed to work on a project or maybe a teacher needed them to make up a math test.”
“So we were all vying for their time for the same time and we ended up putting it here at the end of the day and I love it because it’s definitely our time,” Willet added. “There are no interruptions and it’s amazing what you can accomplish with the kids.”
Erik Moellman, who teaches instrumental music for grades 5-12 in addition to directing the jazz program, feels like extending the day and separating instrumental lessons is having a direct impact on student progress and the way music students are able grasp material and concepts.
“I think it’s really good for the program as a whole,” Moellman said. “I’m noticing this year at the sixth-grade level that the group is further along as a whole and able to pick up on the same music I was doing this same time last year, but they’re able to pick it up much faster.
“I think it’s a result of having more time with them at the fifth-grade level and those concepts a little more solidified before summer break and they come back. I think they are becoming more ingrained.”
Music education is a particular priority for Avon Schools with early emphasis on instrumental music paying dividends as students continue to progress through to high school.
“What it allows us to do is to give the kids the opportunity to do something a lot of districts don’t give them the opportunity to do, which is to start them on the string instruments and the band instruments at an early age,” Willet said.
“They could, in theory, start an instrument in fifth grade and carry it all the way through high school.”
She stressed the program has worked beautifully with support across the aisle. Early music education is allowing students to explore the creative side of their brains and learning to solve problems creatively in addition to being a lot of fun.
“They see and feel their progress and that’s exciting. And it’s hands on. And elementary kids especially enjoy that tactile learning experience,” Willet said.
“We have some kids that are really gifted and it’s just wonderful to watch them accelerate in something like this. And then we find that a lot of the kids are doing well academically, too. It doesn’t distract from their academics in any way.”
At Heritage Elementary, Bryan Hoersten was teaching a class of youngsters on flute and xylophone.
“You’re just a little off center, Hoersten said. “Woah, but not so hard,” Hoersten said while instructing a student on proper form.
Hoersten has been a part of Avon Local Schoools music department for the past 17 years in a variety of roles where he taught elementary, middle and high school students, including a four-year stint as director of the Avon High School Marching Band.
One of his many former pupils includes current Avon High School Band Director Aaron Jacobs, a 2004 Avon graduate and alum of the Marching Eagles, who returned home and took the reigns as band director.
Jacobs, who was a student early in Hoersten’s tenure with the district, has seen everything come full circle, building upon the program’s success and the district’s strong support for music education which is echoed through his own presence and the true impact of early exposure to the craft.