Hitting the right notes

Hitting the right notes

North Smithfield High School chorus director Regina McAdam leads students through a breathing exercise during a recent class. According to McAdam, the school’s new music CTE program offers an opportunity to recognize students beyond their regular classroom achievements. (Breeze photos by Lauren Clem)
NSHS program goes beyond music classes to building careers

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Ben Morris has been playing in the school band since he was in the 6th grade. The North Smithfield High School senior serves as band vice president, plays the tuba and bass in the symphonic band and jazz band and sings in the chamber choir and men’s choir. On nights and weekends, he volunteers as a sound technician for shows at the Stadium Theatre, a position he’s hoping will turn into paid gigs.

His resume is impressive, but there’s one thing Morris, who plans to study sound engineering at UMass Lowell next fall, hopes will set him apart from other seniors. Morris is one of four students at North Smithfield High School currently pursuing a Career and Technical Education (CTE) certification in music, a designation that will appear on his diploma in the spring. It’s one of three CTE programs introduced at the high school this year to recognize students who go above and beyond the regular academic requirements to learn more about pursuing a subject as a career.

“It’s a motivation thing. It shows that I have a dedication to something,” said Morris.

According to Asst. Supt. Claire Arnold, the three programs – which also include pre-engineering and business management, administration and finance – grew out of 15 career pathways developed by high school faculty in 2016 as suggestions for students. The three programs took the extra step of receiving preliminary approval from the state Department of Education in the spring, a move that attaches certain requirements to the curriculum and places them on the same level as other state-approved CTE programs at high schools throughout the state. The subjects, she said, were chosen as areas where North Smithfield already had strong academic programs.

“Looking at the guidelines to development the career and tech program, we felt that we were poised to move forward in those areas because of what we already had in place,” she explained.

As part of the CTE programs, students must take college-level coursework, complete a designated path of courses and complete a senior project in their subject area that includes a mentor and real-world experience. For the music CTE program, that means taking a base-level performance class, two years of advanced performance and AP Music Theory, a course that offers college credit through Rhode Island College in addition to the AP credit.

According to Regina McAdam, chorus director, students can follow either a choral or instrumental track within the CTE program and are generally more motivated about coursework in the subject than their peers who are not pursuing a certification.

“Getting students excited about taking music theory is exciting in and of itself,” she said. “It gives the kids who do want to go above and beyond the motivation to do that.”

While department faculty admitted the academic side of the program is not significantly different from what was offered prior to the CTE certification, Kevin Plouffe, the school’s new band director who previously taught at Woonsocket High School, pointed out the certification offers a “stamp of approval” that sets apart students who are serious about music. The certification, he said, is also a nod to the quality of the program, which has long been a source of pride in North Smithfield.

Plouffe also teaches music technology, a course school officials are hoping to have certified for college credit by next year to introduce a third career path into the CTE program. While the other tracks within the program focus on performance, the music technology track would focus on production and digital editing, subjects that could appeal beyond the typical music student.

“You don’t have to have a trumpet in your hand to get into this class,” Plouffe explained.

While the three CTE programs currently only include students from North Smithfield High School, their preliminary approval by the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) allows the town to open the programs to students from other high schools. According to Supt. Michael St. Jean, other districts would pay approximately $15,000 per pupil to send students to one of the three programs, the per-pupil cost of educating a student at North Smithfield High School as determined by RIDE. While it’s not the programs’ first priority, he said, tuition payments through this kind of exchange could offset the cost of sending North Smithfield students to study in other districts. North Smithfield currently pays tuitions for students attending programs at Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center, Davies Career and Technical High School and Ponaganset High School.

“If we can bring in some students along with tuitions, it will help offset tuitions we’re paying for students going out of district, and it will help bring in some further investment that can go back into these programs,” he said.

McAdam also sees an opportunity to educate students from other districts, though for her, the exchange is more about offering the resources of a well-established music program to students who can’t access one. The school’s music program includes a history of performances at festivals in Williamsburg, Va., Hershey, Penn. and New York as well as collaborations with Providence College, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island.

For students interested in pursuing music beyond high school, the CTE certification is an added bonus on top of what students say is an already solid program. Evan Freiberger, a senior who hopes to study contemporary voice and songwriting at the University of Miami, told The Breeze his passion for the field expanded when he came to North Smithfield High School, sparking a deeper interest in something he now hopes to pursue as a career.

“It’s more than just a hobby or an extracurricular for me. It’s what I want to do,” he said.

Evan Freiberger, a senior at North Smithfield High School, is currently pursuing a Career and Technical Education certification in music, one of three new CTE programs introduced at NSHS this year designed to offer students real-world experience and college credit.