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August 5, 2011 - 6:05pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in arts, music, schools, education, Parents.

The Batavia Music and Arts Advocacy Group (BMAA) held its premiere meeting Wednesday evening at the GoArt! building in Downtown Batavia. Cheri Kolb, seated, and Lauren Picarro-Hoerbelt formed this organization in response to the cuts that the Batavia City School District's arts and music programs have endured as a result of current economic woes. 

Kolb and Picarro-Hoerbelt both have children in the Batavia schools who are involved in music programs. They started this group out of: 1) concern for where they see the district going, and 2) a desire to maintain programs, teachers and the quality of arts/music activities for the kids.

Picarro-Hoerbelt said her hope is for this group to have a presence in both good times and bad.

"(We want) to help out in the bad times, and to remind everyone why these programs are important in the good times."

Kolb envisions BMAA as a "forum for parents (and others) to express their concerns and be a voice for their children."

Five parents were in attendance -- a scant turnout, but understandable, since it "fell in the middle of several vacations" (Kolb's words). A number of other people who were not able to attend the Wednesday meeting have expressed interest in joining.

The issue at hand

Over the past few years, art and music programs have taken some major hits, funding-wise. There has been particular concern about this at the elementary level, where art and music are not mandatory subjects.

For that reason, Kolb said, part of BMAA's mission is to "help create an understanding of how these subjects affect the ones that are mandated."

Part of the night's discussion centered around research showing that the more exposure kids get to these programs early on, the more they will contribute to brain development. Susan Dickenson, one of the parents at the meeting, noted that research has proven the beneficial effects of arts and music programs on reading, math and study skills.

Frank DeMare, another parent at the meeting, said part of the problem is that "it's all about test scores" in the education system right now.

"They want to get test scores up," he said, "and they think the way to solve the problem is to throw money at it. Well, if they're going to throw money at it, the place to throw it is music and the arts."

He noted that students from low income and minority populations are of special concern to the State Education Department in terms of test scores. Children from these populations could stand to gain a lot from the benefits of music programs, but don't have the money to purchase instruments. This is one area where additional funding resources could come in handy.

In spite of their zeal for the arts and music in the schools, Kolb and Picarro-Hoerbelt are not insensitive to taxpayers' concerns.

"People are worried about how their money is being spent," Kolb said. "But they need to know how (their decisions) affect the kids, who will be the next citizens of this community, and also to understand that trying to send a message by voting down budgets might not be the most productive message to this generation."

In the recent past, people have responded to this by arguing that it is the district employees who are "hurting the kids" by demanding unreasonable benefits, etc. Kolb addressed that concern.

"I think there was a time when New York State was in a period of prosperity," she said, "so they put into place a lot of benefits for teachers' unions. Now that the state is in greater economic need, they have had to accommodate the benefits that were in place before. But that's not the fault of the teachers."

She further noted that the teachers she knows "work an incredible amount of hours and contribute (a good amount of) their own money to purchase supplies they can't otherwise get because of budget cuts."

Teachers under pressure, students shortchanged

"The original spark (behind the idea of forming this group) stemmed from (the school board's discussions about) restructuring of the strings program," Kolb said. "That was our first public indicator that there was something going on, budget-wise, that could affect our kids."

Following this "original spark" was a major catalyst: A statement from one of the board members, quoted in The Daily News, about the need to look carefully at non-mandated programs in the wake of state budget cuts. At the elementary level, these include the arts and music.

"We knew they probably weren't going to be cut," Picarro-Hoerbelt said, "but they would be restructured to the point where the kids get less."

This "restructuring" has entailed staff cuts and increased workloads for remaining teachers. For example, the position of chorus instructor at Batavia High School has been eliminated, and the chorus teacher at Batavia Middle School must now pick up the slack by teaching grades six through 12.

Picarro-Hoerbelt's husband, Mark, who was also present at the meeting, has the exact same position (chorus teacher for grades six through 12) in Alexander, which is a smaller district with fewer students.

"I'm busy," he said. "I can't imagine what it's going to be like for him (the BMS chorus teacher)."

Meanwhile, recent retiree Cindy Baldwin's position as a districtwide strings instructor has also been eliminated. Students will now receive string lessons from staff at each of their respective elementary schools.

So at John Kennedy Elementary, for example, the music teacher is going to have to take on 55 string lessons per week. Keep in mind that this is in addition to his role as director of the school's vocal music programs and his regular classroom responsibilities.

Baldwin was also the music department chair for the district; that role will now be assumed by Jane Haggett. Haggett was hired as the high school band director several years ago and, since the band director position at Batavia Middle School was cut, has had to add grades seven and eight to her list as well.

DeMare expressed worry about the prospect of Haggett becoming department chair -- not because he doubts her capabilities, but because she is already overburdened with current responsibilities.

Fewer teachers available and more work for the teachers who remain in the district mean less time and energy to dedicate to the students.

"We're worried about our kids falling through the cracks," Picarro-Hoerbelt said.

Additionally, DeMare noted that the restructuring of programs leads to larger groups of students.

"Some kids get lost in big groups," he said. "They lose interest."

What about the cost?

Right now, the immediate goal of BMAA is to make sure nothing else gets cut. It's about maintaining programs rather than adding to them.

Kolb and Picarro-Hoerbelt stressed that parents and community members are going to have to assume responsibility and find creative ways to keep these programs going.

"There's a tendency to blame the state when things are so dire," Kolb said. "I think we're at a point where the state can't do any more. The districts have to take the initiative."

Dickenson presented the Royalton-Hartland School District in Niagara County (where she used to live) as proof that this can be done.

Royalton-Hartland has received media recognition for its sports programs in addition to having thriving arts/music programs.

"There's something for every student," Dickenson said. "(Royalton-Hartland) is a small district, just like we are. But they really make use of the resources they have available."

When she moved to Batavia, she found that there was "such a different mentality."

"There's almost an attitude in the community that, 'Oh, they're doing the best they can, so we'll leave it in their hands,'" Picarro-Hoerbelt said, "until things get really dire like this. Everyone has to step up."

Game plan

BMAA welcomes all community members with a passion for arts and a desire to see keep them kept alive and well in the schools. The only people who would not be accepted into the group are those who are currently teaching art and music in the Batavia schools, as this would create a conflict of interest.

People with various talents and skills are invited to join and to help out in whatever way they would like.

One way to help BMAA is to do research on various topics, such as:

  • what music/arts programs are in school districts comparable in size to Batavia and how they are maintained;
  • data and charts demonstrating the importance of music and the arts in relation to core subject areas and brain development;
  • rules of conduct at school board meetings;
  • and even something as simple as finding out which locations the school board will use for upcoming meetings and letting everybody else in the group know.

If you have a gift for public speaking, there is also room for people who would like to speak at board meetings or other events.

And that's another thing: BMAA is designed to foster a positive relationship with the school board, as opposed to the community vs. board mentality a lot of people seem to have.

"We are being reassured that they are looking at everything," Kolb said.

In other words, the board is examining options for making necessary cuts more equitable, keeping in mind that the arts and music have suffered disproportionately for a few years.

Other ideas

Another one of the key ideas presented at Wednesday's meeting was that of giving school arts and music programs more visibility in the wider community. Someone raised the question of how, for example, student art shows could be opened up so that it's not just the students and their parents who come, but also school board members, legislators, etc.

DeMare said that in many of the wealthier school districts, local businesses support arts and music programs. Batavia businesses already sponsor sports programs, and everyone agreed that this could be extended to the arts and music as well.

One of the most fundamental questions raised was this: "How can we get people out there to vote?"

A very small percentage of those eligible to vote in school board elections and budget votes actually vote. Picarro-Hoerbelt and Kolb feel it is important to encourage everyone to recognize their role in the lives of our community's children.

"Even if you no longer have a child in the district," Picarro-Hoerbelt said, "please come out and support the programs that meant a lot to your kids 20 years ago."

BMAA is drawing on information from the NAMM Foundation on how to effectively implement grassroots organizations in support of music in the schools. For more information, go to www.nammfoundation.org.

For more information on BMAA or to get involved, e-mail [email protected]. The group's next meeting will be held at the GoArt! building, on the corner of Main and Bank streets, at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

June 10, 2011 - 2:23pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in John Kennedy School, schools, Parents, PTO Today.

On Thursday, John Kennedy Elementary School's parent group proudly posed with their picture in PTO Today, a nationally recognized magazine covering school parent group activities. Pictured from left are Jill Halpin (treasurer), Jen Houseknecht (president), Paul Kesler (John Kennedy principal), Sherri Wahr (vice president) and Cheri Kolb (secretary).

A writer from PTO Today contacted Houseknecht in October after reading The Batavian's article, "John Kennedy School welcomed new families, highlighted community."

According to Wahr, it was the parent group's effort to "bring the community into the school" that piqued PTO's interest.

John Kennedy's Community Night started six years ago as a way to welcome new students and their families, and, at the same time, introduce families to Kesler, whose job as principal started that year.

Kesler called it the "brainchild" of former parent group members Shari Ange and Heather Parker.

"It started off real basic," Kolb said. "Each year we've elaborated more on it, added more activities for the kids and (invited) more organizations."

Local organizations that have attended include the City of Batavia police and fire departments. Detective Rich Schauf, Kesler says, makes it a point to be there every year. Other participants include Cain's Tae Kwon Do, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA, Images in Dance and many others.

People from these groups are very appreciative of this opportunity to showcase their services and connect with the school community. Kesler said that many of them often ask when the next Community Night is going to take place.

Beyond that, some of the vendors at Community Night have worked with the parent group on various school events throughout the year.

"Pauly's Pizzeria has helped us with just about every fundraiser," Wahr said, adding that the restaurant provided the sauce for the school's Pasta Night.

Additionally, Kolb said that the Boy Scouts gave the parent group a plaque this year in acknowledgement of their support of Community Night.

If you ask Kesler or any member of the parent group what has enabled their outreach to the community to be so successful, they will all likely say the same thing: the community spirit among parents, teachers, staff and students at John Kennedy.

"The amount of apprecation and gratitude shown by the principal and staff (has been important)," Kolb said. "Everyone from the secretaries to the custodial staff to the teachers, etc. They always do whatever they can to help."

Houseknecht pointed out that the parent group also has "a large number of parents we can count on for continued support."

"It's really a group effort," Kesler added. "Community night happens because a community of people make it happen."

This includes the students, who always ask what they can do for, and how they can help with, any school event or function. One of the goals the parent group has for next year is to get fifth-graders, who run the games at the school's Family Fun Night, to volunteer on Community Night.

"We'd love to have the fifth-graders kind of mentor the kindergarteners," Halpin said. "Since they're on their way out, they can share their experience and what they love about John Kennedy with the students who are just coming in."

As members of a thriving and supportive school community, the parent group members seem cautiously optimistic about the school district's current budget woes (see yesterday's article, "Public begs for city schools' Suzuki Strings programs to be saved," for coverage).

"I think we have such a supportive community that we'll get through it," Wahr said.

"Change will come," Kolb said. "Other school districts have been through the same thing and come out of it, reached the other side, and seen better times financially. I think it will be the same way with us. It's just a matter of keeping intact what we have in the meantime."

"The community and the schools are going to have to work together more closely," Halpin said. "The onus is going to be on the parents and community to provide activities for the kids that aren't covered in the budget."

Kolb said that efforts to do so will require persistance and the willingness to look for "creative ways to support these programs."

To read the PTO Today article, click here.

If you would like your organization to be featured at next year's Community Night, call the school at 343-2480, ext. 5000.

Kolb said that "as many organizations as are interested" are welcome to participate. They use the gym, the cafeteria, the hallways and the outside area for the event, so there's plenty of room.

April 29, 2010 - 5:21pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, events, Parents, northgate, special education.
Event Date and Time: 
May 7, 2010 - 7:00pm to 9:00pm

EaGeR is a support group for the families of special needs children. Its monthly meeting will be from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, May 7 at the Northgate Free Methodist Church's North Campus, 8160 Bank Street Road. The topic of this session will be CSE (Committee on Special Education) meetings.

All parents and families of special needs children of all ages are welcome and encouraged to attend.

For more details, contact:

Melody McMaster -- 343-4707, or e-mail <[email protected]>

April 10, 2010 - 1:54pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in batavia, Parents, northgate, special education.

Here are some questions for parents of children with special needs: How often do you feel alone or overwhelmed? Do you ever wish you could connect with other parents and find the resources you need to give your kids what they need?

Firsthand experience and awareness of these anxieties are what motivate Lyndy Branton and Melody McMaster in heading up EaGeR -- "Extra Grace Required" -- a parent support group at the North Campus of Batavia's Northgate Free Methodist Church, 8160 Bank Street Road.

Both are mothers of children on the autism spectrum and each week they -- along with McMaster's husband, Sean -- share their experiences and invite other parents to do likewise.

The last meeting was Friday evening in Room A-3 of the Adult Wing. It was an open discussion involving parents whose experiences ranged from that of the mother of a 2-year-old whose diagnosis is still in the works to that of the mother of an autistic teen getting ready for college.

Topics of discussion included:

• Different approaches to telling kids about their own disabilities

• The frustrations and fears of raising autistic children

• Attention to what sorts of things set their children off and what to watch out for

• Prevalent misunderstandings about autism

• Limitations encountered in getting their children the assistance they need

• The experience of dealing with teachers, relatives and even strangers who make them second guess themselves, thinking that they know the children's needs better than the parents do

• When and how to use discipline

• How to encourage kids to use positive ways of getting attention -- by focusing on their talents, etc. -- instead of socially inappropriate behavior

Many EaGeR attendees are the parents of autistic children -- and their children range widely across the autism spectrum -- but the group welcomes and addresses topics that are important to the families of all special-needs children. Many of their meetings are devoted to specific topics, such as IEP (Individualized Education Program) plans, CSE (Committee on Special Education) meetings, family, behavior modification, social skills, diet and treatment.

"It seems like we get a different group every time," McMaster said, "but it always seems to hit the spot. To connect with someone in the same boat and to know you're not alone...that in itself means a lot."

"These meetings seem to have been especially helpful for families who are noticing things in their young children and are trying to get them diagnosed," Sean commented. "It's very helpful to speak with people who have been through the experience and had to overcome a lot of the same obstacles, and just to know that help is available."

Because EaGeR is sponsored by the church, faith is an integral part of its meetings and mission. McMaster, who leads the group in prayer at the end of every meeting, stated that "our Christian faith has had a positive impact on our journey...

"One of our goals is to help prepare the church to work with special-needs kids, who need Jesus Christ as much as anyone else. As Christians, we always have to be ready to deal with them in a merciful way. If they experience rejection at a young age in church, that could make or break their faith."

At the same time, EaGeR is not limited to Christians. All families who struggle with raising special-needs children are invited to attend and to take advantage of the encouragement and support offered by other parents going through similar experiences. McMaster and Branton hold a Christmas party every December as well as a picnic for families in June in order to make people feel comfortable "regardless of where they are in their faith journey" (McMaster's words).

EaGeR meetings take place on the first Friday of every month from 7 until 9 p.m., unless otherwise noted.

For more information, please contact:

Melody McMaster -- 343-4707, or e-mail <[email protected]>

Lyndy Branton -- 409-8079, or e-mail <[email protected]>

March 8, 2010 - 9:06pm
Event Date and Time: 
March 13, 2010 - 10:00am to 11:00am

"Wooly BookWorms" is a monthly book discussion club for students in grades 3-5 and their "favorite adult" -- be that a parent, grandparent, babysitter or other -- and will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. on Sat., March 13.

This session's selection is "My Side of the Mountain," by Jean Craighead George. Kids and accompanying adults will discuss the book and work on a craft afterward. Children should bring their own craft materials to work with. Refreshments will be served.

June 24, 2009 - 3:30pm
posted by Steve Hawley in Parents, steve hawley, children, sex offender, internet, free.



Legislation to Protect Against Sex Offenders Passes Both Houses


Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R, I, C – Batavia) voted in support of legislation that would help safeguard children from sex offenders by allowing residents to sign up to receive e-mail alerts when Level 2 and 3 sex offenders move into their neighborhood (A.1242-B).


“In today’s busy world, not every parent or guardian has the time to constantly check the Internet database; however, as a parent myself, I know there is nothing more important than keeping our children safe.  This bill helps parents and guardians do that in a quick, free and common-sense manner for today’s world,” said Hawley.


The service would allow residents to sign up for the e-mail alerts through the Division of Criminal Justice Services website.  The resident would be able to specify the geographical area of concern for them and then receive e-mail notifications if a Level 2 or 3 sex offender moves into that area.


The bill has now been passed in both houses and is before the Governor for his consideration. 




May 14, 2008 - 12:02pm
posted by Patrick D. Burk in family, Parents.

When all is said and done, there is not one single thing that is more important than working with and taking care of our children.  In the past this was always handled, and rightly so, by the parents....however in today's world...this has also changed.  Parents are the single most influential aspect in a young person's life...that is if there is an active and engaged parenting unit in the child's life.  Parents are also the most influential even if they are bad at parenting.  That is the crux of the matter.  Good or bad....parents influence. 

You may notice that I have used the word parent, not father or mother...although that is the most significant and familiar defintion of the term.  Parent's can take many other forms as well.  Today we have grandparent's who fill this role along with aunts, uncles, older siblings and completely unrelated people.  Today we have to look at the word parent as the person who has the single most influence on the young child and hope that that influence is positive and nurturing in nature.  The very definition of parent has changed in the 21st Century.  We are on the cusp of having a redefining element in what actually is "parenting". 

This is one reason why politicians these days try to explain the importance of the "traditional" family.  What they do not see is that this definition as well has changed.  If "family" does not reflect what they percieve as the "former norm" of two parents and 2.5 children, then it must be a bad thing.  Since the basic defintion of family has changed and many are now not the norm, it is imperative that we STOP making those children, parents and caretakes feel that they are lesser in many ways.  Always reciting the nauseating "family values" politics without acknowledging the change and its importance in lowering the importance of the non-traditional family reduces the importance of exactly what these non-traditional parents are accomplishing.

Can you  imagine a child realizing that they are in a lesser family unit because a politician, teacher or religious leader steps up and tells them that the optimum family is a Mom, Dad and 2.5 children.  The child will realize that they are being told that they are in a much lesser form of family when in fact, they may be in a wonderfully stable environment.  So what is more important?  Having the old norm of family permeate the child and his thinking or redefining the word and realizing that there are non-traditional settings that are great families.  I have actually met a child that was told that he would be better in school if he had two parents to concentrate on his educational needs.

Now that statement may be true. There is not a doubt that the two parent family (again notice the removal of terms father and mother) is in fact the optimum ideal...but that does not diminish the grandmother that has the successful opportunity to raise her loving grandchildren because that is thier family of choice or need.  It also does not  explain why in non-traditional families, there is also a great emphasis placed on character education and nurturing.  There are plenty of examples of two parent traditional families who have not been successful in providing the stable, nurturing and loving environment that is needed for raising our children.   There are phenominal examples of non-traditional families that excel.  

You may be wondering where all this has come from.  I do like to write about a ton of topics, but this comes from a direct conversation that I have had with another person in the field of education.  It is pure, plain and simple....if we tell the child that they are coming from a lesser value of family, the child - as a member of that family - will also think that they are lesser.  It is time to redefine what the word "family" means.  It is time to take a clear look at who the "parents" are with each child and it is time to stop thinking that just because a child has a mom and a dad he is from a stable nurturing environment.  It is time to think of the child instead or our antiquated definitiions of words.

Thanks for listening.




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