By Kathleen Gibbons, MBUSD parent
It’s hard for us to believe, but our family is nearing the end of our time in the Manhattan Beach School District. Our oldest son graduated from Mira Costa last June and attends Tulane University in New Orleans, while our youngest son finishes his Junior year at Costa. With our older son away, there is a little less frenetic energy in our home, less juggling of multiple academic, athletic, and activity schedules. In eighteen months, my husband and I will be empty nesters. And as we adjust to the quieting of our home, we’ve had a chance to reflect on our sons’ education in MBUSD and the impact of MBEF-funded programs in particular.
In 2007, after our boys spent a couple of years at a private K-8 school in the South Bay, we enrolled them in MBUSD. Admittedly, the first couple of years were rough, with the school district experiencing heavy state budget cuts in education. We worried whether we’d made the right decision as pink slips were issued to teachers. But district parents mobilized, and through MBEF donations, helped save a number of teachers and programs. At Meadows Elementary, we saw how MBEF supported small classrooms, the librarians, and teachers in music, PE, and computer classes. When our oldest was in fifth grade, a science lab was installed on campus. With MBEF funds, a new science lab specialist was hired, who at the time had said the lab was better equipped than the one at her previous middle school. We believe both our boys’ love for science began in this lab. They each pursued Honors and Advance Placement science classes at Costa in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and took other advanced STEM courses in computer science and math. Our youngest son has also taught science lessons outside the district, bringing instructive labs to underserved elementary students.
Of all the grants that MBEF provides for MBUSD, we are most grateful for the district’s music program in which both our sons participated. Our youngest played violin for six years in elementary and middle school and in the after-school Honors Strings program. Our oldest son played alto sax, contra alto clarinet, and bass clarinet for nine consecutive years from elementary school through his senior year in high school. At Costa, he was in all three concert bands—Symphonic, Wind Ensemble, and Wind Symphony—participating in many festivals, competitions, recordings, and concert performances, not to mention all the practice time in and out of the class room. During this time, under the guidance of directors Joel Carlson, Peter Park, and Michael Hayden, the Costa music department won a Grammy award, one of three high schools to receive this prestigious award in 2014, an incredible accomplishment. Just before my oldest son graduated, he and 300+ fellow Costa band and orchestra musicians played at Carnegie Hall in New York City, a stunning capstone performance in which one reviewer said they played with “a level of preparation that I would expect from a college or professional ensemble… Balance, intonation, and articulation were all razor-sharp!… The audience loved it and the ovation was loud and long.”
It doesn’t matter whether or not our boys were the most skilled musicians in their classes. It doesn’t matter that our younger son is pursuing interests other than music while at Costa. The benefit they each gained from their exposure to music, no matter how many years they each participated, is immeasurable: they studied difficult pieces of music, requiring discipline and perseverance; they discovered the beauty of music as an art form, fostering imagination, creativity, and curiosity; and they learned how to contribute their small part in collaboration with others in a shared experience. These are all valuable and transferable life skills they will continue to use in college and beyond.
Despite the challenges it faces in funding, MBUSD provides depth and breadth in its curriculum at all grade levels. It can’t otherwise do this without MBEF’s support. Each year, our district is at risk of losing many of these programs without the safety net of a parcel tax or additional funding from the state. Over the last several years, we’ve been more than happy to contribute to MBEF and are grateful for the programs that made valuable contributions to our sons’ education.