About 50 music students and their parents gathered at the Oct.16 Abington Heights School Board’s monthly business meeting to question the board on its decision to discontinue overnight trips for the band, chorus and orchestra.
Susan Sileo, president of the Abington Heights Band Boosters, expressed her disappointment with the elimination of the trips.
“As a united group, we’ve experienced these trips first-hand as chaperones,” Sileo said. “The trips have always been very well organized and structured. The students are well behaved, respectful and have represented our school and community in a positive manner.
“Our experiences have been very positive and the overall benefits far outweigh the extremely rare negative ones. We believe the overnight trip is an important and integral part of the marching band experience.”
Freshman Taylor Messina believes cancelling the trips would take away from the close bond enjoyed by the group.
“I can already tell that we’re becoming a family,” he said. “Together, we can do amazing things. By taking away these band trips, it would hinder our unity as a band.”
Evan Eckersley, assistant director and former band member, fears participation in the band may be affected if the trips are cut.
“The main reason I implore you to reconsider is for the well-being of the music program,” he said. “The trips are a significant incentive that draw many students to the band.”
According to Abington Heights Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Mahon, while last year’s accusations of theft by two members of the band played a part in the decision, there were also other factors.
“The trips themselves have not been flawless and without incident,” he said. “There have been some difficulties, along with tremendous good and lots of fun. We did not cut trips for the entire music department because two kids acted badly. The incident, as severe as it was, did prompt us to accelerate our look at the whole idea of the trips, and how to improve it. My only interest is doing the right thing.”
Mahon will reflect on the decision and report back to the board at the district’s Nov. 6 work session.
He believes there is room for growth in the music program with a few changes.
“This group is fantastic,” he said. “We think that, in the long run, we will advance as a band and as an organization by doing things a little different. This is true of our chorus and orchestra, as well. This has been an ongoing conversation at the department and administrative level (as) well as teachers at the high school.”
According to Abington Heights High School Principal Pamela Murray, the district is not “closing the door” on trips for students who advance in district, regional, and state competitions.
“We’re still looking for additional ways for our students to compete at a higher level,” she said.
Robin Domenico, of Clarks Green, asked the board why some high school students were pulled into small groups based on religion and race.
“We, over the past five years, have made some really good effort to talk with students,” Mahon said. “Left unaddressed during my tenure here was any conversation, with one exception, with minority groups. Particularly over the past few years, we have seen issues where members of minority groups have felt uncomfortable because of actions that have taken place either unintentional or intentional.”
According to Mahon, after the initial meeting, all student participation is voluntary.
“We don’t understand any of their perspectives, we may never, but we certainly never will unless we start to ask,” he said. “It’s our hope to continue to engage in these discussions to better understand barriers minority students face so that we can address them.”
Board President Cathy Hardaway believes there was good intention behind the meetings, but acknowledged it could have been initiated in a smoother fashion.
“I think there is a communication issue,” she said. “When people saw these groups, it just went haywire, which is unfortunate. As an African-American, I hope we have some good diversity discussions with everyone because it needs to be discussed.”
In other business: The board voted, 7-0, to approve Dr. Fran Rassouli as the new director of special education. They also voted, 7-0, to accept the resignation of Robert Bugno, principal of the Newton Ransom and South Abington Elementary Schools.