I’m taking a break from the normal shenanigans around here to address something I feel very passionately about. As a child, pre-teen, and teen, I was very heavily involved in the music program in Upper Darby School District. This very program is now at risk of being cut. Here is my letter to the School Board and District Administration.
Dear Administrators and Members of the Board,
I am an alumna of Garrettford Elementary School, Drexel Hill Middle School, and Upper Darby High School. I am a product of the Upper Darby School District Music Program. From the time I entered the district in first grade, until the day I graduated from Upper Darby High School, the related arts classes, and more specifically, the music program played an integral role in my education, my personal development, and helped shaped me into who I am today. I am heartbroken to hear that, in the face of a budgeting crisis, your first line of defense and financial recovery is to cut the related arts from our elementary schools.
During my time as a student within Upper Darby School District, I was a proud member of Garrettford’s Fifth Grade Chorus, DHMS’s chorus, Concert Singers, Girls’ Ensemble, and Marching Band, and Upper Darby High School’s Chorus and Concert Choir. As a student who was not athletically inclined, and who was cut from the middle school field hockey team, these groups taught me what it meant to be part of a team. The teachers I encountered during my time in these groups inspired me to be better, to do better, both on stage and as an individual. To Mrs. Pennington, Mr. Pulacik, Mr. Turbedsky, Mr. Rider, Mrs. Schneider-Salhi, and Mrs. Benglian, I say thank you. Thank you for opening doors to me as a student I wouldn’t have known existed without you. Thank you for providing me with a place that I fit in.
As you discuss and debate the merits of keeping or cutting our music program, please consider that the building in which you are holding your board meetings, the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center, was my second home for four years of my life. It was the second home of friends that I considered family, and still do. On the second floor of that building is a room with rows of red chairs sitting on risers, with a piano in the center of it. To many of you, it is just a room. To myself and to so many others, we still consider that room a part of our home. In that room, under the direction of Mrs. Barbara Benglian, we became one voice.
Whether it was choir class, a last minute rehearsal, an actual performance, or a national competition, Mrs. Benglian demanded we give our best. Friends of mine that went to other local high schools joined the chorus because it was an easy “A.” Students at Upper Darby knew better, and joined the music programs because we wanted to be the best. During my time in Concert Choir, we continuously earned the title of Grand Champions at competitions. Our soloists won awards, as did the Encore Singers. Because of the high standard Mrs. Benglian held us to, we held ourselves to the same high standard. It is that high standard that I continue to hold myself to, in everything that I do.
Not only were we held to this high standard musically, but we were also held to an academic standard. Had it not been for that standard, my grades probably would not have been what they were. My main motivation, skewed as it may have been, was to make sure that I stayed academically eligible to perform. My grades that were not the only thing the music program helped me maintain. Without my second home, without Chorus and Concert Choir, I would not have built the confidence I did within those groups. I would not have built the friendships or lasting memories, either. Without the musical foundation built by my elementary and middle school teachers, I do not think I’d have been so strongly committed to the music program as a high-schooler. For so many of us, the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center was our home away from home, and it was where we began to learn who we would be as adults. It kept us off the streets and out of trouble, and more importantly, it gave us something to be proud of.
As a concerned alumna, I implore to you afford current and future students the same opportunities I was given as a student of Upper Darby School District. Allow them to experience greatness, because it is what they deserve.
Upper Darby High School, Class of 2003
I cannot begin to describe the level of discipline and excellence that was instilled in me through being involved in this music program. I cannot begin to list the memories, the lessons I learned, or the relationships I forged during my time as a member of this organization. This program saved me, in all honesty. Middle school was an awful time for me – my friends from elementary school had become “too cool” by the time we hit sixth grade – their parents allowed them to dress like baby whores and loiter in convenience store parking lots and mine didn’t. I was cruelly teased by girls that had once been my best friends and confidants. Upon joining the chorus and later auditioning and being accepted into Concert Singers and Girls’ Ensemble at the middle school level, I found a second home. I made new friends, ones who didn’t have futures as teen moms and criminals, and I learned about myself. I learned what it was to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. I gained confidence. I gained a voice. In high school, I think it’s possible I spent more time at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center than I did my own home . My parents supported and encouraged my involvement, coming to every performance we had to offer.
If you are from the greater Philadelphia area, and even if you aren’t, PLEASE check out saveudarts.org <— This site has all the information needed to help myself, countless alumni, current students, and district parents take action, and make sure the very voice I was given by this program is heard.