How Ashland District School has Adapted to Make Music Education a Priority

By Jonathan Simonoff, Visual and Performing Arts Chair for Ashland Community School

The Ashland District School (MSAD 32) music program tried really hard to keep a positive outlook during these difficult times. Instead of thinking “It’s too bad we can’t do this,” we tried to frame it as, “How great is it that we get to do this now?” We looked at our goals for each part of our Pre-K – 12 curriculum and tried to identify ways to still reach these goals in a safe but engaging environment. For some classes those changes were minimal but other parts of the program had a drastic overhaul.

For example, the youngest elementary grades have not changed much but some parts of instruction are being recorded so that vocal and instrumental songs can still be shown to the students. Those classes are also being taught in each grade’s homeroom now.

In the past, 4th grade students would use recorders as part of pre-band lessons. This year we are using ukuleles to try to hit upon these concepts. Each student has a ukulele they get to use in class that is sanitized after.

Our beginning band students have also seen a significant change. Since we are not starting any students on traditional band instruments, we have made use of keyboards and drum pads. The class has been put into groups and each student in 5th grade gets a weekly small group lesson on keyboards for note reading skills and drum pads for extra rhythm reinforcement. We are in week 3 of these lessons and so far, every kid is reading and playing very well. I do remind them that they will get a chance to try the band instrument they want but these skills will help them later.

Last year our middle school students usually would have the option of signing up for middle school guitar class or middle school band. This year the guitar class is still an option and the other class they can sign up for is middle school percussion, which focuses on reading and playing rhythms on a variety of traditional and non-traditional percussion instruments.

Perhaps the groups that have changed the most this year are my high school classes. Normally high school students would have the option of taking guitar class or high school band. The guitar class is still running as normal but high school band has changed significantly.

My ed. tech and I have developed an alternating multi-course option for my high school students. We rotate courses every other day and students were able to sign up for one course each day. The courses offered as follows – Piano Class, Percussion Class, Strings Class, Rock Band, Independent Study, or 1 study hall. For example, a student could take piano one day and strings the other day and they follow that schedule for at least a semester before potentially changing their courses.

The classes are pretty self-explanatory.  Piano class (a very popular choice) is like a group piano lab. Percussion class has students spending time practicing rhythms and working on drum set techniques. Strings class is teaching students violin. Rock band (another popular choice) has students working with guitar, bass guitar, piano, and drum set to play modern music and independent study allows students to set up and achieve their own musical goals with check-ins with me to track their progress and give advice. For example, I have a few students working on playing the ukulele and using online guides to help them. I also have some students working on creating their own compositions. Study hall is a chance for students catch up on their other academics.

This set up comes with the understanding that students need to be self-motivated and disciplined since some of the time in class they are expected to work independently while myself or my ed. tech are working with other students. It has been very rewarding both for students and teachers to see progress being made and finding new ways to connect with and learn about music.

It also has been a lot of work to set up in terms of making sure we have enough keyboards and violins. We also are writing some of the music out by ear for students (particularly the Rock Band) to perform. But now that we are a month into school, things seem to be moving along nicely and I am very happy with how this year is shaping up!

This story was submitted by Jonathan Simonoff, Visual and Performing Arts Chair for Ashland Community School in collaboration with Jason Anderson, Visual and Performing Arts Specialist for the Maine DOE as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea email it to Rachel at