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Where's the music?

By the Notebook on Nov 30, 2012 11:44 AM
Photo: Flickr/nosha

This is a reprint of a story that originally appeared in Furness High School's publication Furness Falcon.

by BarbaraJean Chareunsack

Do you remember in second or third grade, when the school's music teachers would go to different classrooms and convince your class to try out for music? They would start you off with a recorder if you were interested in playing percussion or wind instruments. For string instruments, they would start you off with a violin to learn where to place your fingers. Or, do you remember having a music class at least once a week?

I remember all of this. The music teachers taught me how to play various instruments and read musical notes. It opened up a new world. Today, I can't live without music! What person can?! Seriously, I don't think I can go a day without singing, picking up an instrument, or listening to the melodies coming from my iPod or MP3s. 

For two years, Furness had a music teacher, Mr. Miller. Furness students had an opportunity to perform in a choir, take guitar lessons, and learn how to read music. We also had a keyboard lab and learned how to create electronic music. Mr. Miller set a very high standard. Furness's talented students had a musical outlet. We had regular concerts, and in 2010-2011, three students made all-city choir. Unfortunately, after two years, Mr. Miller left Pennsylvania and the music position was cut. 

Last year, when I was a junior, Ms. Coleman took over choir and Mr. Kasper taught guitar. It was not a full-time music program, but we still had music in our school. I was fortunate tenough to take guitar class as an elective. It was the only class where I could relax. Other students had choir and participated in a spring musical. This year, I am a senior and, because of School District cuts, music is not offered at Furness High School. No music in our school is a huge loss.

Why don't all schools have full-time art and music teachers and programs? Why doesn't a high school have a choir, band, and orchestra? Why don't we have instrumental music lessons? Vocal lessons? There is a lot of research on the connections between music and academic achievement. Music not only keeps students involved in school, but also might help us in other classes. 

Earlier in the year, I asked our principal, Mr. Peou, "Where are the instruments?" and "What are you going to do with them?" He said that they were stored on the third floor, but he also said that if we don't use them, the School District would take them and give them to another school. Since then, the keyboards are gone.

When the school looks at its budget for 2013-2014, let's make sure music is restored to Furness. We still have guitars. We have talented singers. We have a piano. Let's find a way to have a dynamic music teacher. We have plenty of sports. We also need plenty of music. 

BarbaraJean Chareunsack is a senior at Horace Howard Furness High School.

The opinions expressed in this guest post are solely those of the author. The Notebook invites readers to submit guest posts on current topics in education. Send submissions to

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Comments (14)

Submitted by Concerned Parent (not verified) on November 30, 2012 2:35 pm
Furness isn't going to be there next year...
Submitted by Lawlass52 (not verified) on November 30, 2012 3:53 pm
I attended public school during the "bad old days" of segregation. I attended Meade Elementary School, Vaux Middle School (it's a High school now), and Girls' High. Girls High was racially integrated, but Meade and Vaux was predominantly African-American. At both Meade and Vaux, we had music appreciation. Music appreciation included: a class once a week in which we learned to sing and/or play an instrument (xylophone, flute, piano, bells, drums, etc); attending special assemblies in the schools' auditorium in which we enjoyed the Philadelphia Orchestra, Philadelphia Ballet, local Jazz bands; and opportunities for students with special talents to join the schools' orchestra, glee club, or full choir. We also had musical talent competitions, featuring students from every grade group. Students voted for the best performers, who were awarded prizes by the principals. Additionally, all students had the opportunity to try out for plays and musicals to be performed around the holidays organized by the music and art teachers. At both Meade and Vaux, we had a student newspaper, a poetry club, an art club, glee club, and a school orchestra. These activities strengthened students' literacy skills in other subject areas, such as English grammar and pronunciation, reading comprehension and retention, writing, and speaking with clarity and grammatical correctness. Participation in extracurricular clubs also instilled self-confidence, as students learned how to successfully perform their talents before an audience filled with their peers, teachers, parents, and neighbors. Every school should have music, art, and poetry clubs. It's a shame that the PA Department of Education does not see the intrinsic value of these subjects to a well-rounded education of its students.
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on November 30, 2012 2:43 pm
Great article, BarbaraJean, you should testify in front of the School Reform Commission.
Submitted by Robert Scherf (not verified) on November 30, 2012 3:55 pm
Sorry students, cuts had to be made somewhere so we could give 25 managers raises.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 30, 2012 6:09 pm
No, it's closing because the building is falling down and there is space at Southern.
Submitted by Timothy Boyle on December 1, 2012 8:00 am

Bok, Southern, and Furness all had higher than average FCI that last time data of this sort was produced. While the "leaked" plan called for the closure of Furness, it also called for a new Southern to be built (and Bok to close and move to a yet to be constructed building at the Navy Yard).

There is over-crowding at in the "Promise Neighborehood" catchment schools, McDaniel and Girard, and growth at Fell and Taggart. South Philadelphia and especially the southeastern neighborehoods are growing, not shrinking like other segements of Philadelphia. If Furness closes, and all of these students are going to Southern, it will be short time before we're talking about capacity issues, or facilities issues at Southern.

The tensions that exist between people in the Furness and Southern catchments can't be ignored either. Principal Hackney and the staff at Southern have improved the climate greatly since 2008. Principal McKenna and now Prinpical Peou and the staff at Furness have also worked hard to create a great climate at Furness. Assigning all these students to one school could restart the school climate building work that has already been achieved.  


Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on December 1, 2012 10:48 am
I do no not think that people really understand the neighborhood dynamics of South Philadelphia. Furness has a supportive and nurturing climate because the school community works so hard to keep it that way. When I was there, Paul Vallas closed Audenreid because of the violence there. He sent half of their students to Southern and half to Furness without any additional teachers or support staff. It destroyed the climate at both schools because they just fought with each other. That was the underlying causal reason why Southern became out of control which lasted for years which culminated in the attacks on Asians. The reason Furness was able to deal with the situation and maintain itself as a "safe haven" was because of the extraordinary effort of our teachers and support staff. They did everything I ever asked them to do and went way beyond the scope of their contract. When I walked several blocks to keep students safe when conflicts arose, there were always twenty staff members right with me. I never had to ask them to do that. They just did it because that is what they do and that is what they had always done. I spent the next couple of years keeping the 5th street kids, and the 12th street kids and the 21st street kids from killing each other. They fought constantly and so did many of their parents. At one time we set up a mediation at a church on 12th street. None of the 5th street students and their families showed up. When I asked one of the students why he and his friends did not show up, he said point blank, "Mr. Migliore nobody from 5th street is going to go up to 12th street after dark.They are afraid to." If anyone thinks they can just send the Furness students to Southern without serious safety and climate issues emerging, they have their heads in the sand. I also do not think people really understand how important what they do is to the community which they serve. Furness is not a Great school community because they had two Great principals in recent years, which they did. They were a Great school community long before they or I ever arrived. Furness has a great school community and a supportive and nurturing climate because they have a "culture of caring" which emanates from the teachers and support staff. They care about their students, each other and their local community. To really understand the depth of their caring culture and what they do for students, you really do have to work there for an extended period of time.
Submitted by Annonym. (not verified) on December 1, 2012 9:50 am
Whose fault is it that Furness is 100 years old and falling down? Whose fault is it that Bok is falling apart? The School District has chosen to let buildings deteriorate for decades while giving some neighborhoods new schools.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on November 30, 2012 3:02 pm
Furness is one of the best school communities we have in Philadelphia and they provide much needed services to special needs students and speakers of other languages. They do it in a warm and caring atmosphere which is quickly felt by anyone who ever takes the time to walk through their front door. It would be a disservice to the schoolchildren of South Philadelphia to just eliminate that school. If the district had any sense, they would build Furness a new school and make Furness the neighborhood school for that part of South Philadelphia. Furness is a Great school community like many others within the district. I was honored and fortunate to have the opportunity to work for seven years with that group of dedicated teachers and support staff and be chosen by them to be their assistant principal. Furness was and still is a wonderful place to work and a wonderful school.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 1, 2012 11:00 am
So what's your plan if there IS no money to build a new school or fix the Furness building?
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on December 1, 2012 12:36 pm
Give me a month of working with the school district leaders and I will develop one that meets the needs of the South Philadelphia community and keeps the Furness community together. There is plenty of money in the coffers of Governor Corbett to fund a first rate school system that meets the needs of students and neighborhoods. The reason there is no money to do things right is because Governor Corbett chooses not to fund public schools properly. We need truth and honesty in this discussion. The only positive legacy of Paul Vallas is that he could get new schools built, and that I have to concede to him. Otherwise, he left the district in a state of devastation and ruined many a good school.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 2, 2012 9:32 pm
Mr. Migliore, if its only going to take you a month to get Corbett to properly fund the public schools, please start today. Local politicians and parents have been trying for over a year with no success. Go for it, and show us the money!
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on December 3, 2012 9:44 am
I would love to be able to do that, but I assure you Governor Corbett is not going to change his ways anytime soon. I, or anyone else with knowledge about the community, could come up with a plan within a month. That is the easy part, but the funding plan is what takes cooperation from Harrisburg. The problems of Philadelphia's finances are the result of several years of fiscal mismanagement. Now we have the financial underfunding of our public schools. That is purposeful. The loan the district just signed to fund our schools temporarily is not good fiscal policy at all and was a move of desperation. If the SRC, at Corbett's bidding, tries to ram compensation cutbacks down the teachers' throats, it will eventually cause a backlash that we haven't seen in 30 years. The problem is, and has been for years, the appropriate funding of public schools. The politicians can play their political power games, but there are enough good people with their eyes open in Philadelphia who have the will and fortitude to speak up. It is time we stopped playing games with our children and start doing things in their best interests. Attacking teachers and public employees is counterproductive. Without a strong and highly qualified core of teachers and support staff, we will be lost. Destroying the "profession of education" does not help children or our communities. It destroys our community. The only way to improve our school system is to attract highly qualified teachers and keep them in Philadelphia. You have to treat them with dignity and respect and empower teachers to create programs to meet the needs of their students and their school communities. We also have to compensate teachers as professionals and give them professional security. Our best principals and school leaders understand that. By treating teachers as factory workers and expendable commodities, it takes us backwards over fifty years. Teaching and leading teachers is a noble profession. We need to understand that and treat teachers as the professionals that they are. It is time we grew up as a nation and as a community and rise above the adversarial processes of an era long gone that destroy the community of our schools and school system. We need to move into the 21st century in the arena of school governance and leadership.
Submitted by Ashley (not verified) on December 20, 2012 6:24 pm
I agree! Even though there are many places where you can get voice lessons in Philadelphia fairly cheap, is is an option that all school systems should provide.

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