Music, art take center stage at Denair school board meeting

Traditional academic subjects such as math, English, reading, science and history understandably receive much of the attention on school campuses and in the community. Students’ ability to learn and apply those lessons will help shape their lives for years to come.

But no less important are outlets for creative expression such as music, art, drama and even speech. At Thursday’s meeting of the Denair Unified School District board, trustees heard from students and teachers about the positive impact of two of those programs – music and art.

“Music benefits students’ social and emotional health and encourages teamwork,” explained Fred Steiner, who teaches music to hundreds of students across all grade levels in the district. 

He was accompanied at Thursday’s meeting by four high school students — Marcos Corral  (saxophone), Jonathan Coronel (sax), Angel Trujillo (trombone) and Kaden Prine  (trumpet) – who entertained the audience with a short snippet of the Denair High fight song “On Wisconsin.”

Steiner, who came to Denair in the 20-21 school year after many years in Southern California, has focused on growing the number of music students across the district. This year, he has more than 300 at the elementary level and dozens more at the middle and high schools, plus Denair Charter Academy. 

“At the primary grades, students get an opportunity to open their minds and be a little more expressive. We focus on fundamentals of music,” Steiner explained. “At middle school and high school, we move to building skills on their instruments and performing.”

The enthusiasm and interest are contagious as band and music students respond to opportunities to play at the Denair Gaslight Theater, in the Turlock Christmas Parade or at other events.

“I think it’s fun and exciting to play at the football games because you play in front of a lot of people and get to watch the game,” Coronel said.

Art students also were in attendance Thursday, joining first-year DHS teacher Hudson Berdino during their presentation.

Berdino told trustees that there are a range of art courses – from Art I through III to Art Design and AP Art – that allow students of all experience levels and abilities to flex their creative muscles using various mediums.

“The arts are valuable because our student’s stories are valuable,” Berdino explained. “Their abilities to think, challenge, critique and create for themselves are crucial.”

Asked about the benefit of art classes, Denair High senior Genevieve Orozco said, “Art gives us a chance to be creative. Art makes school much more fun, and allows a chance to express ourselves without always being told exactly what to do.”

Kira Dotson and Lupin McIntire, who attended the meeting, showed off their own portfolios with trustees and the audience. Both indicated that art may be something they want to pursue as a career.

“There are lots of exciting things happening in art,” said Berdino. “These kids are insanely talented and I’m so proud of them.”

In addition to music and art students from DHS, board members also listened intently during another presentation of high interest at the high school – the dress code.

Interim Principal Breanne Aguiar and senior Natalie Bailey explained how discussions that began last spring led modifications about the types of clothing and accessories that are allowed to be worn on campus. The changes are more in the form of tweaks rather than major overhauls of the policy set by the board, which says that “a student may not remain at school or at a school function dressed in a manner that creates a safety hazard for said student or for other students at school, and/or when the dress constitutes a serious and unnecessary distraction to the learning process or tends to disrupt campus order.”

“We felt there were some things that were outdated or unfair,” said Bailey.

Superintendent Terry Metzger said the new policy – which board members unanimously supported – is less ambiguous for staff, which is important because “they’re the ones who have to enforce it.”

The goal, Aguiar said, was to “try to find a balance as to what’s appropriate.”

The new policy will be in place on a trial basis through the spring semester. Assuming there are no major issues, it is expected to be extended into the next school year.

In other action Thursday night, trustees:

  • Approved the promotion of Laura Cardenas to be the interim principal at Denair Elementary Charter Academy. She has been the school’s learning director the past few years.
  • Heard a report from Metzger about the district’s results on the state’s academic performance tests in the 2021-22 school year, which are reported on the California School Dashboard. It’s a compilation of several data points that show a snapshot of our district,” Metzger explained. “The data points don’t tell the story of what’s happening day in and day out in the district. There are so many great things happening for students and we provide a tremendous amount of support for students and families as they are dealing with the lingering effects of the pandemic. Student disengagement, mental health and wellbeing concerns, and family hardships are all things that require attention and support as we prepare students for success after graduation, specifically that they are literate in all content areas.”
  • Approved a minimum wage increase to $15.50 per hour for entry-level employees represented by the California State Employees Association.
  • OK’d the Senior Trip on May 14-15 to Disneyland for the members of the Denair High Class of 2023.
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