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Commentary: FCAT robs Pahokee kids of band experience

Ohanian Comment:
Politicians are so obsessed with test scores that school administrators are being forced to eliminate the most basic elements of a child's public school education.

The corporate politico cabal is destroying a generation of kids. Destroying them. You can't put a kid into test prep all day and expect him to emerge whole.

By Emily J. Minor

Just in case you've been busy lately and haven't had much time for dirty thoughts about the FCAT, here's a little something to get you riled up.

You're welcome.

Ollice Davis, the band director in Pahokee and perhaps the most lovable man on Earth, is losing talent this year. All of a sudden, the middle-school kids at Pahokee Middle/Senior High School aren't taking band during the school day.

They can come in an hour early if they want. "Zero Period," it's called.

Principal Reed Bain says there is not enough time to offer band during the six-period day.

"Because of the FCAT, we have to prepare the kids for the FCAT," says Davis, who just began his 32nd year of teaching at Pahokee. "So there are other classes they have to have. And that's a problem all over the whole state of Florida."

For years, Pahokee's band has been an amazing mix of talent and spirit, one of the community cornerstones. Leigh Woodham, who is admittedly biased she's a band mom and president of the booster club uses this anecdote to make her point.

"Our slowest time of the game is halftime," she says about the booster's concession sales. "What does that say?"

It says the band doesn't reek. It rocks.

For years, Davis has plucked his talent from the middle school. Bain said parents were told last year this was about to change, but Woodham says it wasn't handled quite that nicely.

School hits a low note

The truth probably lies somewhere between. But that's not today's point. Today's point is that politicians are so obsessed with test scores that school administrators are being forced to eliminate the most basic elements of a child's public school education.

At Pahokee, it's even more complicated. Pahokee has only one middle school, and it's on the high school campus. Meaning: Davis draws his high school band members from just one school. His. But another fiasco is that parents didn't want the high-school and middle-school kids reporting for school at the same time.

Now, the high school kids start first. Once they're squirreled away, the middle-school kids begin their day. Because of the late start, middle-schoolers get just six periods.

That's one less than the usual seven, so the elective hour goes.

Who cares, right?

I mean, it's not like music is essential to a kid's life.

Some of the students in Pahokee's International Baccalaureate program can take an elective. But many of Pahokee's students aren't in IB. Indeed, some non-IB kids are being forced to use their sixth period for FCAT review because they didn't score high enough last time around. Those kids do not have one free period during the day.

Not one. Every period of every day is used to remind them how far behind they already are in life.

"We are literally getting away from what education should be for kids," said Bain, which is his polite way of saying the FCAT gives him a stomachache.

Woodham said at least 50 of the new eighth-graders won't be taking band this year. Davis said his top-notch program can't go on without middle-schoolers. Bain said the "Zero Period" solution might make everything OK, but Davis and Woodham aren't so sure.

"I'm disappointed it's not the same as it was," Davis said Friday. "But we have to move on. I've been teaching that to my students: Life is that way."

Especially here, in our public schools. And it reeks.

— Emily J. Minor
Palm Beach Post





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