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Forced to Choose Between Loves

(By Julie Zhu -- Montgomery Blair High School)
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By Jay Mathews
Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dear Extra Credit:

You wondered whether people involved in public high schools had experienced forced choices between sports and other activities.

Remember the marching-band issue -- the mandatory marching-band issue? I was one of the original parents of Concerned Band Parents in Fairfax County, and we corresponded with you a number of times about this topic.

At the time, my two oldest sons were in the band and played hockey (my third child, a fourth-grader, does both now). Ice hockey is not an official school sport and conflicts mightily with marching-band requirements. My oldest, an eighth-grader, was basically told he had to choose hockey or band for ninth grade. Which do you think he chose? He did not continue with the band.

However, at the time, my sixth-grader did continue band through eighth grade at Walt Whitman High School. For a number of reasons, we decided that a smaller school environment was better for him, and so he is a freshman at Bishop Ireton, even though we are not Catholic. Not only is he still in the band playing percussion (no marching band there), he was on the school's hockey team and recreational league hockey team, and is on the varsity tennis team. If he had gone to Mount Vernon or West Potomac high schools, he would have been able to participate only in the band (if he accepted the marching-band mandate) and, I suppose, tennis, assuming that he had made the team. However, hockey is his favorite sport, so I can safely say he would have dropped band because the schedules are incompatible.

So, yes, those of us involved in public high schools have seen this again and again. The really sad part is that students are being forced to choose not just among sports, but between music and sports, which is wrong. Haven't the powers that be read the studies about the incredibly positive influence that music has on the brain and the ability to learn math? Shouldn't they be finding ways to keep students in music and sports?

Barbara Steakley

Mount Vernon


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