Marysville music students stage 'sing-in' protest of program cuts

MARYSVILLE — Sunnyside Elementary music students and their families made their voices heard in support of the program that's made a difference in their lives.

Brenda Ehrhardt led her Sunnyside music students in a "sing-in" protest in front of the Marysville School District's offices on the morning of June 30, performing familiar standards for passing motorists and school district staff to show not only what they've learned from Ehrhardt, but also how much she means to them.

"She always helped me find a strong spot for myself, "Sunnyside music student Kate Andrews said. "We made a didgeridoo in her class."

Although Ehrhardt will still be teaching music at Sunnyside, even after the Marysville School District's reductions in force, she'll only be at that school for three days each week, which has left a number of children and parents alike concerned about the quality of education that those kids will receive, which they argue enhanced by music.

"Music education is basic education for them," said Laurellyn Felthoven, who's both a fellow teacher and a parent at Sunnyside Elementary.

Kerry Smith's older daughter has already gone through Ehrhardt's music program, while her youngest daughter remains involved in choir as she enters fifth grade next year at Sunnyside.

"Brenda Ehrhardt is a vital part of this community," Smith said. "My oldest is going into her sophomore year at Marysville Getchell High School and I've seen what music education did for her confidence. It gives these kids a sense of school pride and community cohesiveness which can carry on through high school and college."

Lily Nichols has had Ehrhardt as a music teacher since kindergarten and as she looks ahead to fifth grade after the summer, she hopes that her favorite part of school will continue.

"I just don't want them to take away the best music teacher in the district," Lily Nichols said.

Val Nichols, Lily's mom, credited Ehrhardt with boosting Lily's confidence.

"Choir has really brought her out of her shell," Val Nichols said. "It's given her a place to shine."

Ehrhardt herself deemed cuts in school music programs a problem not just at Sunnyside, but on up through middle and high school throughout the Marysville School District.

"I love these kids," Ehrhardt said. "I've been teaching them for six years, but next school year not all of them will be able to take music."

MSD Assistant Superintendent Gail Miller came out of the school district's offices to praise the students' skills and activism, but noted that the district has few alternatives.

"I recognize your passion," said Miller, who pointed out that music was one of many programs undergoing budget cuts due to funding reductions. "There's a suit by parents at the state Supreme Court, saying that our legislators aren't funding education the way that they should. There are a lot of protestors in Olympia, just as there are here. I'm sorry we don't have better news, but we enjoy your music and you have every right to be here."

In an earlier statement that day, MSD Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland noted that 15 other teachers have received RIF notices, and reducing another program, such as PE, would lead to the person in that position being unemployed.

"We're already past the deadline to RIF them anyway," Nyland said. "This is very illustrative of the impact of our budget everywhere in the district. We've lost $18 million in funding over the last four years."

"These are all difficult decisions, because they all reduce something that affects our children," Miller said.

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