New Brunswick

Fredericton school's decision to drop music requirement after Grade 9 shocks supporters

Proponents of art and music in schools are speaking out about Fredericton High School's plan to break from tradition and stop requiring students take art and music in Grade 10.

Former teacher, students want FHS to keep arts tradition that helped it stand out from other high schools

While the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development sets standards for school programming, scheduling choices are made at the school level, said Flavio Nienow, a spokesperson for the department, in an email. (Ed Hunter)

A growing chorus of voices is decrying a decision by Fredericton High School to stop requiring students to take music or art after Grade 9.

Students in Grade 10 will no longer have to take any art or music courses to complement the mandatory ones, such as mathematics, English and science.

It's a break from a long tradition at the school, and Don Bossé, a former music teacher, said he wants to see the decision reversed.

"When I heard about it, I was devastated," said Bossé, who served as the school's music director for 24 years, and head of its fine arts department for 22 of those before retiring in 2018.

"You know, we had a great, great art and music program at FHS for many years, and this is the beginning of the erosion of a, you know, a model program."

Implies arts and music less important

Bossé said the decision sends the message that art and music aren't as important as other courses.

He said whereas students are required to take 90-hour courses each for physical education and technology in Grade 9, art and music are each split up into two separate 45-hour courses in that grade.

Don Bossé, former music director at Fredericton High School, said he wants the administration to reverse its decision to no longer require Grade 10 students to take art or music. (CBC)

"So that means you're going to finish high school with possibly only having experienced art [and] music for 45 hours."

"Would we accept that for math, science, our languages, our histories? Probably not, but why are we accepting it for the arts?"

Bossé said his fear now is with neither subjects no longer required in Grade 10, cuts and reductions in those programs may later follow.

Decision allows for 'greater student choice'

Fredericton High School principal Stephanie Underhill Tomilson declined an interview for this story.

In an emailed statement, Underhill Tomilson said "the direction FHS has taken is aligned with the provincial 9/10 Companion Document, supports greater student choice, and allows students to pursue their passions."

In an emailed statement, Fredericton High School principal Stephanie Underhill Tomilson said "the direction FHS has taken is aligned with the provincial 9/10 Companion Document, supports greater student choice, and allows students to pursue their passions." (Facebook)

Underhill Tomilson also said the decision is not a curriculum change, and referred to the High School Music Guidelines, which states "all students must receive the minimum of 45 hours of music instruction in Grade 9 and should have a choice of pursuing music further in Grade 10 for another minimum of 45 hours." 

While the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development sets standards for school programming, scheduling choices are made at the school level, said Flavio Nienow, a spokesperson for the department, in an email.

According to the prescribed program guide for students in Grade 9 and 10, students can meet the minimum time requirements for visual arts, music, physical education and health, and broad-based technology through 90 hours in each.

Alternatively, they can choose to do 90 hours in two courses, 45 hours in one and 135 hours in the fourth, he said.

"This second option, if viable in terms of staffing and scheduling, provides some student choice. Within either 360 hour configuration, students must have a minimum of 45 hours in all four areas; this should preferably be at grade nine."

Former students speak out

Christine Hughes, who graduated in 2016, said she'd signed up for the music program in Grade 10, but opted to do art instead as the music class was full. Still, she participated as a member of the school's band and said the art program was a fulfilling choice anyway.

Christine Hughes of the Fredericton High School class of 2016, said she was disappointed to learn Grade 10 students will no longer be required to take either art or music. (Submitted by Christine Hughes)

She said she was disappointed to find out that students will now no longer be required to take either of those subjects in Grade 10.

"I might not have chosen art at all. But it actually provided a really wonderful space to decompress and to think about something other than sort of academics in the pure sense of the word," she said.

Torri MacIntosh, another past student, in an email, said she was "enriched by the music and arts programs at the school," and found the decision by the administration "astounding."

"Grade 10, for many students, is the very last opportunity to experience education in the arts," she said. "The arts provide students with a major set of life skills that they are not able to obtain elsewhere."

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