I am the band director at Copiague High School, entering my 28th year here. Copiague is a high-tax, low-wealth district with a growing immigrant Hispanic population, a steady 30 percent African-American population and a small immigrant Polish population to boot.
We have a comprehensive music program here and have been chosen as a "Top 100" community for music education by Music for All. I was chosen in December 2010 as one of "Fifty Directors Who Make a Difference" by School Band and Orchestra Magazine.
The point is that, with all the problems a community like ours has, with a program of kids who are immigrant or first-generation Americans from 26 different countries, we still have won five New York State Marching Band Championship titles, appeared in the MACY'S Thanksgiving Day Parade and appeared in the movie “Lord of War” with Nicolas Cage.
We use music to bring kids together to work for a common good, to forget their differences and to recognize their strengths; the greatest strength being each other and their desire for excellence.
In a very hard time, our School Board has found a way to keep the band alive for this upcoming year and, through private and legislative grants, we are in a position where nearly every child has a high-quality, school-owned instrument. Members of the Band Parents Association support every kid as if they were their own and together we call ourselves a "Band Family."
Anyone can join our Band. We have six of the Top Ten seniors, including the valedictorian and salutatorian. We have special education students, some very accomplished musicians and some true beginners. The goal is excellence and we have some fun getting there. But, most of all, we pull together; we are a family and we feel the love of our community from our principal, superintendent and School Board, all the way to the local weekly newspaper.
So what do I do? I come to school every day and do what I could call "my hobby." I get paid well for doing something I absolutely love and I have the privilege to work with the best folks in our community, regardless of their station in life. For we are all there for one reason:
(John Wevers teaches in the Copiague School District and is a NYSUT member.)