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Trio sees value in music classes at public schools

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    From left, Amherst educators Christopher Barbaro and Mark Skladan and Wellington teacher Gayle Hughes.

    PHOTO PROVIDED

ELYRIA — Together, they have been teaching music for 84 years.

Throughout their careers, the emphasis placed on the fine arts may have changed, but two things that have remained important are the students and the music.

Amherst teachers Christopher Barbaro and Mark Skladan and Wellington teacher Gayle Hughes received their 25-year awards at the Ohio Music Education Association State Conference earlier this year.

“Music hasn’t really changed,” said Skladan, 53, of Elyria, who teaches at Marion L. Steele High School. “Music is music. There are more requirements put on us by the state, some of it helpful. The testing required in some classes pulls students in many different directions. It doesn’t always allow students to take music classes for four years. We also lose a lot of days to testing.”

It’s a shame, he said, because students are missing out on learning something creative.

“We lose the creative emphasis so much that the cognitive stuff becomes a lot more mechanical,” Skladan said. “To be successful in life, you need to be a lot more creative — to get yourself into a situation, make a presentation — than plain old cognitive learning.”

That focus on testing has a lot to do with the emphasis on making sure every student goes to college, but there are a lot of students who would be well-served if they have a vocation, Skladan said. And vocational studies aren’t emphasized as they once were, either.

“Music is not a tested subject,” concurred Hughes, 64, of Avon. “It almost makes it second best. If you can work music in, fine. We’re not giving students a well-rounded education, if that’s the case. Music is in everything we do in our lives. If we don’t introduce it early, we’re not helping later on.”

Music helps with brain development, and helps you do better on tests, Hughes said.

“It needs to be a part of every education,” she said. “It shouldn’t be considered different from the core classes.”

Although the fine arts are often the first to go when districts are looking to make budget cuts, these educators said their programs have been lucky.

“I’ve seen a lot of support for music in the schools,” said Barbaro, 48, of Lorain, who teaches at Steele High. “And I’ve seen a decline. Luckily, that ebb and flow comes in waves.”

The educators have noted other changes in music education in addition to the overall pressures of academic testing.

With so many things to do today, it’s hard to fit it all in, said Barbaro, who has been teaching 26 years.

“Before, it was football, band and soccer,” he said. “Now it’s football, band, soccer, boyfriends, girlfriends, jobs, we’ve got to go to college, we’ve got to graduate early. It’s just the hustle-bustle way we live nowadays.”

Social media also can be a distraction.

“It’s a new era we are all diving into,” Barbaro said. “Social media can get in the way of their learning. Now, they can fight and make up right there in class. They have more information at their fingertips than I ever did, yet they know less about what to do.”

Still, technology also has its upside.

“We have access to music around the world,” said Hughes, who has been teaching 27 years. “When I first started, we used records in class. There are way more materials available now. We can give students many more experiences with a variety of music. We can show them concerts from around the world.”

What hasn’t changed over the years are the kids, the teachers agree.

“The kids who are here do a great job,” Barbaro said. “They work hard and are very dedicated. We don’t have the discipline problems like when I was younger.”

Barbaro admits he didn’t do well in high school, but he was passionate about music and his band grades were excellent.

“Music is a part of me,” he said. “Who I became was because I enjoyed helping others succeed, especially in music. Teaching comes naturally to me.”

“Music is a language,” he continued. “It helps people communicate. Songs have words. Music helps people feel emotion. It’s a really neat thing to share that musical moment. When kids do well (playing), they feel it. And when they do really well, the audience feels it.”

The most rewarding part of teaching is similar for Skladan, who has been an educator for 31 years.

“The most rewarding part is working with select students on group-oriented goals,” Skladan said. “Watching them mature and get better and relating that to how life works. When you are part of a group, every member is important. If you work together, it’s easy to see how each member is important.”

“Sharing music with students and seeing the light bulb go on when they get it is the most rewarding part,” Hughes said.

Despite any hurdles, the future of music education can be bright, Barbaro said.

“I’d like to see the continued support — financially and through volunteer help — that we have gotten all of these years. I’d like to see things made easier for students to stay in band and I’d like more kids to get involved.”

For Skladan, teaching keeps him young, he said.

“It allows me to feel like I’m still ‘with it,’ and it humbles me to know that I’m not as with it as I think I am,” he jokes. “It also keeps me in touch with this generation.”

But everything they do, they do for the students.

“Music education is important to students,” Hughes said. “Not just for a class, but for a lifetime.”

CAREERS AT A GLANCE

Here is a look at the careers of three Lorain County music teachers who were honored by the Ohio Music Education Association State Conference this year.

Christopher Barbaro

Marion L. Steele High School band director Barbaro started music at a young age. He remembers going to watch his uncle play high school football when he was about 4 or 5 years old and telling his parents he was going to be in the marching band.

He did join the marching band, and so much more.

By the age of 16, he played clarinet, bassoon, trombone and tuba. He joined the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps, which he describes as “marching band on steroids.” It’s a summer traveling band that competes throughout the U.S. against other bands.

Barbaro joined the marching band at Kent State University, where he majored in music education. He started his career in 1992 in Youngstown and worked there for a year before coming to Amherst, where he began as junior high band director.

He took over as high school band director in 2001.

Mark Skladan

An Elyria native, Steele High School choir director Skladan was a student at Jefferson Junior High School in the late 1970s. He had been playing piano since about age 6, and his music teacher, John Ardnt, made him somewhat of an assistant.

“He allowed me to play piano for soloists or accompany the choir on piano,” Skladan said.

When he moved on to Elyria West High School, he had the opportunity to continue helping in that way, and he enjoyed it.

Skladan studied music education at Bowling Green State University, where he majored in voice and piano. After graduating, he was hired in New London, where he worked for five years before moving on to Midview. He stayed there for six years before coming to Amherst in 1997, where he works as the high school choir director.

Gayle Hughes

Hughes started music at an early age, playing piano when she was about 6 years old. She took up an instrument in fifth grade, and played in band and sang choir throughout high school and college.

At Otterbein College, where she majored in music education, she was involved in all things music. Her parents, both music teachers, were thrilled with her career choice, she said.

She worked in Delaware for three years after graduation, then took 15 years off to raise her family. She then worked at St. Mary’s Elementary School in Elyria for three years before being hired in Wellington in 2000, where she works as a general music and choir teacher.

Contact Christina Jolliffe at 329-7155 or ctnews@chroniclet.com.

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