The Flagler County School Board this evening votes on whether to renew the Flagler Youth Orchestra for its 18th year. Renewal was not in question in previous years, as it has been this year. (See: “After 17 Years, Two School Board Members Put Flagler Youth Orchestra’s Future in Doubt.”) Former Flagler School Superintendent Jim Tager, now a superintendent in Maine, sent FlaglerLive the statement of support that appears here, as did former Palm Coast City council member Bob Cuff. Parents, community members at large and students–current an and former–sent numerous letters and emails to school board members, a sample of which, acquired from board members, appears below.
I’d like to express my gratitude to Cheryl Tristam for her consistent, passionate and unwavering leadership with the Flagler Youth Orchestra. As former Flagler Schools Superintendent, former Franklin West, Vermont Superintendent, and current Bangor School Department Superintendent, I can unequivocally state that Cheryl’s service to the Flagler County Schools through the FYO is a rare gem that should be treasured as a gift for all children from elementary through high school.
Three key parts of this program that make Flagler shine as a nationwide best practice include inclusivity, the ability to increase academic excellence, and sharing a love for music with the community.
During my tenure in Flagler attending the FYO concerts was a favorite occurrence for my wife Jodi and I. The diversity within the orchestra members is something to celebrate. Seeing students of all abilities with different backgrounds regardless of socioeconomic status provided a sense of inclusiveness that made me proud as a community member.
Without referencing volumes of research it is widely understood that the participation in musical arts increases academic achievement. Watching students progress from the first concert of the year to the culminating concert in the spring is a pleasure to bear witness to. Watching students grow in talent, stage presence, collaboration, and professionalism provides a set of skills that will help them navigate their future plans with confidence. They say the best teachers instruct at a level where the students can eventually provide the learning for one and another. Cheryl’s conductors often demonstrate that innate ability.
Lastly, I have observed ensembles of the FYO perform at civic events, for community members who could use a boost of enthusiasm, and even at a 5K that was a fundraiser for cancer. The good will of the FYO for the community is not something to take for granted. Dedicated school board member Dr. Colleen Conklin commented that the Flagler Youth Orchestra is a “bargain.” I am in full agreement with her.
Beyond Dr. Conklin’s wise financial assessment, this group of talented musicians creates a sense of joy for families and the community.
Let the show go on.
I’m writing to urge you to continue funding the Flagler Youth Orchestra. I cannot overemphasize the positive effect that FYO had on my life as a child.
Joining the FYO gave me a foundation in classical arts and culture, and a taste for life-long learning. Learning an instrument taught me responsibility and patience (and frankly, the overwhelming evidence indicates that it makes kids smarter). I do not know who I would have become without an early introduction to classical music, but I can emphatically state that I am better off for having been part of FYO.
I recognize that transportation costs are a concern. Growing up, my mother could not drive my brother and I to all of our extracurriculars. She worked hard jobs with hard hours, but the public transportation provided to us made it possible to participate in this program. Otherwise I would have been sitting in front of a TV at home after school every day. Flagler County does not need more idle children.
I also understand that some parents in other extracurriculars are upset about a lack of perceived fairness–I was simultaneously in band and FYO at one point. However, unlike at FYO, my band fees helped pay for expensive uniforms, long-distance travel, and significantly more expensive instruments. I believe subsidizing transportation to this otherwise inexpensive program is well worth the County’s money.
Most importantly, I need to note that cutting this funding will not affect those who can afford private string lessons. It will only affect the poor and the middle class. Please continue funding the Youth Orchestra. Kids in Flagler, especially the least fortunate, deserve it.
Larisa Kupinszky Gamberg
JD Candidate, 2023
Chicago-Kent College of Law, Honors Scholar
Moot Court Honor Society and Law Review Member
As a concerned community member and former Flagler County Schools Volunteer of the Year (2013), I wish to go on record requesting you continue to fund Flagler Youth Orchestra.
The arts, in all of their forms, are conduits through which one learns emotional regulation. There are numerous case studies such as The Effects of Musical Training on Childhood Development: A Randomized Trial of El Sistema in Venezuela, and many others in such publications as the International Journal of Critical Illness and Injury 2012 and Therapies in Clinical Practices 2018, where neurologists and psychologists have measurable evidence that classical music reduces cortisol (stress) levels, improves self control and prosocial skills, as well as reduces behavioral difficulties.
I am gravely concerned for our student and faculty well being, as we systematically dismantle funding for creative programs that teach these vital mental health skills. With our national trend of increased school violence and mental health concerns, we need to be supporting and creating more programs that allow our children to express their emotions appropriately while simultaneously providing future conflict-resolution skills.
With regards to equity, the “cultural capital” the orchestra has provided our community children for 17 years must be noted. Cultural Currency is defined as non-financial social assets that promote the social mobility beyond economic means including certain forms of knowledge, training, skills, and education that allow one to access higher economic statuses. Classical training is a proven example. Most colleges require extra-curricular activities, with many Ivy League schools lending special preference to those who have studied classical music.
In short, the orchestra is providing children from diverse economic backgrounds the opportunity to improve their lives by providing a skillset that is typically only available for those who can afford private lessons. I implore you, please continue to provide our children this important program. There is scientific proof that it is improving the lives of our student body long term by providing important mental health and socioeconomic tools.
Jenica “Hen” Frederickson
My name is Cody Biggs. I am a single mom living in Palm Coast for seven years now with my daughter. We came to Palm Coast when she was only four years old and I am her only parent. I am writing to express that Flagler Youth Orchestra is very important to us.
I had only a high school diploma when my child was born. Though I was a veteran of the US Navy, being a mother late in life (at the age of 41), ideal work for a one-parent household was not to be found. So being a responsible mother seeking only the best for my child, my family, I began college online when my child turned 2. Going to college and volunteering countless hours in the music program at my church landed me a suitable employment position as a liturgical musician at my church.My child has great love for music she has been involved because she has been taken with me everywhere. She is very drawn to music, as it is a powerful means of comfort, growth and strength. Because of FYO my child can sight-read music and she is learning and growing each and every lesson that she receives for free. She dearly loves going to FYO, and practices each day. FYO provides to her necessary hands on training for skills and knowledge in playing the violin. It teaches her music theory and fundamentals. She gains self-confidence in herself and it builds her esteem. She learns social skills being surrounded by other students of all ages, race, culture, and lifestyles all united together in one common goal–to learn and grow in the beautiful art of stringed orchestra.
Though I have acquired solid employment, the reality is that I could never afford to pay for violin lessons at the level of expertise that she now receives. But even if I could afford lessons, no one offers lessons which provide actual orchestra experience. This is a very important thing to learn and experience in every level of growth in such stringed instruments. If I had to pay for lessons elsewhere, my child would not be getting all of the other things that go with working together with the other players. It is more than lessons. It is our life. Imagine if there were no soccer teams and the children were required to seek out individual soccer coaches and not learn the team work or skills together as a whole to function on the field. This is the same in the case of stringed instrument players.
Flagler Youth Orchestra is nothing short of amazing.
A few years ago I was offered a job as a music director (before I received my current employment), but I would not move out of Flagler county because I knew how important it was in the eyes of my child to attend FYO. This is important not only to her but to me. I realize what a treasure we have in FYO and living in Flagler County is providing for us a golden opportunity. Thank you for any ways that you assist in making this possible for my daughter, Lucia Dolores Biggs, and for me her Mom who strides to give her the best things that life has to offer. Many thanks.
Cody Lucinda Biggs
I would like to express my thanks for having the best musical school program in the state. There are not many orchestral programs for kids. My husband and I specifically stay in Flagler County for our daughter due to your Flagler Youth Orchestra.
Our daughter has a high IQ with interests in math, science, engineering, and violin. Her goals are to get into an excellent college for engineering such as MIT so she can pursue either a degree in quantum physics or architecture, subjects for which she currently takes classes outside of the school system, as these are not offered for 11-year-olds within the school. She absolutely loves the orchestral program and practices multiple hours a day voluntarily. She also takes private lessons so that she can do well both in youth orchestra as well as strive for a violin scholarship to MIT in order to lessen the cost of an engineering college.
Without your program our daughter may not have as many opportunities to have a potential scholarship for the school of her dreams.
I would also like to thank you for providing a youth orchestra to all children in the county. Multitudes of studies show that students who learn music score higher in English, math and science exams than their nonmusical peers. As you know, higher scores on annual achievement tests measuring student knowledge can help the county access which funds to which Flagler County school has access. Bravo to you for that recognition and I hope you continue this investment.
Studies about students who study music have proven that other benefits to students include but are not limited to reducing student stress and test anxiety. The studies have also shown the students ability for increased focus. It’s great to know that you as the school board have our students’ best interest at heart.
That there are hundreds of students in FYO also means that parents like my wife and myself, grandparents of the students, uncles, aunts, and older siblings, all of voting age, take this into account when elections come around as we know that you as a board take our children’s needs for music programs for learning and growing into account. By helping to give orchestral space and time, consideration, and kindness towards their music teachers and music administration, you are providing these talented children, or those just starting their music journey, a potentially positive affect on their lives and those of hundreds and hundreds of relatives within the county of these children, who all know that you value the students’ learning and well-being.
Thanks again for being a proponent and partner for our child’s and other students’ musical journey within FYO. Our daughter is so proud of her accomplishments and is striving everyday to go forward towards her music and engineering goals. Thank you for all your support.
Your happy constituents,
I am writing this letter in support of the Flagler County Strings Program. As a music educator in this county, I would like to share with you how truly special and unique this program is here in Flagler County.
I have taught in our school district for 12 years and bring with me previous experiences from teaching in Duval and Volusia counties. I have also been involved with public school music programs in Hendersonville, North Carolina, Hoover and Vestavia Hills programs in Birmingham, Alabama. Strings programs are difficult to find thriving outside of specialized performing arts schools and big cities. It is even harder to find programs that are thriving with quality instruction.
When I joined the Flagler County Schools team, I was impressed that we had a Strings program established and available for all schools in the county to attend. During my first year I observed the Strings program as they performed for our elementary school students. I was impressed with the exceptional quality of the instructors. Over the years, I saw students grow in the program as they would return every year to perform for our elementary students at Rymfire.
As musicians, we are certified to teach K-12. But we all have our own specialties and areas of study. Many times, strings programs are an afterthought, assigned to another music teacher. For example, a school will tell the high school chorus teacher that they have to teach a class of strings just to say they have a string program. I know from personal experience as my own husband was assigned a strings class when he was the assistant band director at Spruce Creek High School. His only strings experience was a half semester class in college. He was a new teacher and clearly not a well-studied professional in this area. There was also no feeder pattern for this program, therefore it could not turn into a multi-leveled program, as it was just one class.
Our Strings program here in Flagler County offers levels for Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced students. Music is an ongoing upward spiraled curriculum that allows students to grow and develop. Students cannot thrive and grow when you have beginners and advanced students all in one class room. It is like trying to teach pre-algebra and Calculus at the same time.
I have also seen strings programs where a quality instructor is hired, but then that one teacher is expected to teach in two elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school. As you can imagine that can be quite stressful dealing with four sets of schools, administrators, and parents. Not to mention your time and talents get stretched too thin. What typically happens in this model is the high-quality teacher normally does not survive in this situation for more than a few years. It is unmanageable and the quality of the program suffers. Programs like these usually have a high turnover rate, which affects the stability of the program.
The Flagler County Strings Program is composed of high-quality string instructors, who are passionate and offers ability leveled instruction. The strings program is open to the entire county. Not only is the strings program achieving musical success, but it is also developing lovers of music. As you know, our elementary school students do not have music and art classes once a week. Many students only receive musical instruction for two short segments during a school year. When a 3rd-5th grade student enrolls in the Flagler County Strings program, they are then receiving musical instruction consistently twice a week throughout the entire year. This is an incredible opportunity for our younger student musicians.
Many times, when we add programs to our schools, we do it with the idea in mind that we are creating opportunities. I have seen how positive these programs are, but also they sometimes limit our students’ options in order to take that opportunity. For example, our Freshman IB students only get one elective in order to meet the requirements of their IB program, but while they take that opportunity, it limits their options to be in multiple performing ensembles. The same is true of other specialized programs, like our fire, police, and i3 academies. In order to graduate with these specialties, it limits their elective options.
Flagler County strings program is one of the few programs that gives students an opportunity without limiting their options. I have students that are able to take band along with dance, and still be involved in the strings program. We have students who take art, sing in the Chorus, and are still able to be a part of the Flagler County Strings Program. This allows students to explore other mediums to think, perform, and create and still have the option and opportunity to learn a string instrument.
The 17-year commitment and longevity of the Flagler County Strings program could not be possible without a passionate leader. Mrs. Tristam has been a committed and dedicated leader and organizer of this program. She, like the rest of us educators, has faced many challenges, especially trying to navigate through instruction during these Covid times. One of the wonderful things about Flagler County is we have kept art and music programs in all of our schools, no matter what obstacles we have faced. This is rare as sometimes these programs are the first things to be cut when times get difficult, especially financially.
I urge you as our county decision makers to stick to this resolve and support all of our Arts Programs. The Flagler County Strings program offers a fantastic musical experience for our students and deserves to have our unwavering support.
Buddy Taylor Middle School Band Director
I am writing a letter of support for the Flagler Youth Orchestra and its long standing presence in the Flagler Community. The orchestra has been in this community for 17 years impacting the lives of students and families as well as developing an appreciation of the learning/educational process, self expression, and bringing the art of music to Flagler County.
The program originated as a special project by Flagler Schools as an after school strings program that now reaches over 200-300 students per year. If looking at all the programs offered by the schools, this is one of the largest organizations Flagler Schools has that reaches such a broad base of students.
Cheryl Tristam was given the opportunity to be the Executive Director of this organization and she has been fully devoted and given her heart and soul to fulfill its mission to reach the students and families of this community. She has provided consistency and direction for the program. She has developed policies and procedures that are consistent with other organizations around our area and she stays connected with local musicians to find quality instructors for the students of the program. There is also a commitment to fundraise and collect donations for other needs to support the program that are not provided by the budget but are costs to keep things running. Cheryl is always working to make the program better and better each year.
The Flagler Youth Orchestra has grown over the years into a comprehensive program that gives the students the fundamentals to be successful and progress in their abilities to share, express, and recreate music. There are for to six different teachers that represent all of the different sections of the orchestra and so every individual receives instruction specific to their instrument. Auditions are done yearly to place the students in ability levels for skill development and so that the music that is performed matches their level of skill.
For the past several years the FYO has collaborated with the Flagler Palm Coast High School Band Band to perform a full orchestra selection or two with the advanced orchestra at the final concert of each season.
Every year there is a big open house event to get students excited about the program. Numbers over the years have been consistent throughout the different levels of the program. Expectations of the program are clearly laid out for those participating and they are available at all times on the Orchestra’s website. There is a presence from the Youth Orchestra in community performances and the annual performances the different ensembles put on at the Flagler Auditorium. These performances are always well attended.
There is a level of consistency and commitment to the Flagler Youth Orchestras mission that should be recognized and appreciated. If the budget is not approved for this program, it would not be sustainable through the long term. To say this could be replaced in our school day would be a major undertaking that would need much collaboration with schools, administrators, teachers, and instructors.
Brevard Schools have strings in all of their schools but the elementary strings are only offered before or after school with traveling string itinerants that travel from school to school. Those same itinerants are responsible for a middle school and a high school and are typically in conjunction with another music teacher already housed at that school as well as the rehearsal facilities for all of these levels. The way the FYO is currently structured allows for consistency of policies, instructional goals, and the most cost effective way to facilitate the instruction and facilities.
If there are policies or something in the Flagler Schools mission that does not align with the Flagler Youth Orchestras mission, then I feel like the opportunity should be given to make adjustments. The FYO continues to have large numbers and is using the money it receives on instruction, instruments, and to run the program. Most importantly, it is giving more arts instruction to the students and families of Flagler Schools.
Let it continue to be a light in our community. Please continue to show your value and appreciation of this program by supporting the Flagler Youth Orchestra and supporting the budget needed in helping it to continue to operate.
Director of Bands
Flagler Palm Coast High School
I am writing to urge your continued support for the Flagler Youth Orchestra. The support of parents, teachers, staff and the community for this program is obvious and well deserved. The Board should honor this support by continuing, not curtailing, this wonderful opportunity for our students.
I understand the difficult decisions elected officials must make at budget time. If there are real concerns about equity or perceptions that the students participating in the orchestra receive benefits that students in other programs do not receive, the Board should do their best to improve support for other programs like the FYO and strive to bring those programs up to at least the modest level of support provided to the FYO.
The way to allow our students to achieve their full potential is not to deprive them of an existing, stellar program like the FYO but to seek out and support other programs like the FYO to inspire students whose interests may not include the FYO.
Please continue to support the Flagler Youth Orchestra in this year and the years to come. Thank you for your consideration,
Palm Coast City Council member, 2016-2020
Disclosure: Cheryl Tristam is the wife of FlaglerLive editor Pierre Tristam.