Lunch, where everybody knows your name

It’s an oasis of quiet?

Rebekah Bell lets slip a laugh and then struggles to compose herself. We are, after all, discussing the popularity of her band room at lunch time. But she allows that I am on the right track.

Her band room at Porter Creek Secondary School is a room full of drums and horns and stringed instruments and all other manner of refined noisemakers … and yet many students choose this place to relax and have their lunch.

It is a place that is not as stressful and hectic as the cafeteria or crowded hallway.

Bell, the band teacher at Porter Creek Secondary School, says her band room has a “sense of acceptance”.

Bruce Johnson is the band teacher at F.H. Collins Secondary School. He says he has found the same: “The band room is a break from the stress, the stress of being a teenager.”

“Well, they are still a teenager,” says Bell. “But at least they are away from everybody else in the school.”

“It’s less intimidating,” Johnson says, summing it up.

Band rooms are not really designed to be kinder, gentler cafeterias, especially when there are thousands of dollars worth of equipment in the room. It is just something that evolved.

Band students have always been encouraged to come to the classroom during lunch to practise their instruments. Of course, they bring their lunches … and often they bring their friends.

Music is an extremely social activity and a room devoted to music just lends itself so naturally to the comforts of a group: “Everything we do in band is as a group,” says Bell. “We are always respectful of each other.”

“We are as good as our weakest player,” adds Johnson. “So we help each other out.”

Bell says older students will hear someone struggling with a piece of music during lunch and they will offer to help.

“It’s really cool to see that.”

In this zone of respect, everyone knows what is expected of them. They tend not to leave messes behind and, if a newcomer is about to touch something they shouldn’t when the teacher leaves the room, it will be another student who warns them away.

“People don’t come here to misbehave,” says Bell. “If they act like idiots, I kick them out.”

“If they use bad language, I kick them out,” adds Johnson, saying they are allowed back in the next week or the next day depending on the student.

Joining the students on band trips, Bell and Johnson say they know them better than most teachers and better than even most counsellors.

A familiarity develops and many students will drop in to borrow pencils and rulers and spoons …

“… and hair elastics,” chimes in Bell.

“Not from me,” says Johnson, earning him a bemused look from Bell. She continues, saying she wishes she had a quarter for every phone call made from her office by a student.

And when a parent is looking for their child during school hours, they often phone the band room.

Bell says she even has a microwave oven in her office that is well-used by the students. But she draws the line at her fridge: “They can’t use my fridge,” she declares.

Recognizing that many students treat the band room as a “second home”, F.H. Collins has implemented a new plan this year to place lockers of band students just outside of the band room.

The students were coming to the band room in the morning first anyway, says Johnson, because they don’t want to carry their instruments back and forth.

Porter Creek is keeping an eye on this trial to see how it works out.

Indeed, Bell and Johnson work together on many projects. They have to. There is just too much work to do.

Besides being band teachers, they are also musical directors of the All City Bands Society which helps with fundraising, trips and getting adults involved in school programs, workshops, adjudication and concerts. Fortunately, they and the many volunteers over these past eight years, have been recently joined by a part-time administrator, a position made possible with $30,000 of core funding from Yukon Tourism and Culture’s Arts Fund.

The new administrator has “taken the load off” the two band teachers and allowed them to focus on the 190 musicians assisted by the society, the music and the concerts.

And the volunteers keep getting better and better in their tasks while the members of the executive “understand their jobs so well, they are really effective,” says Johnson.

Even so, Johnson says he doesn’t expect his routine of these past 30 years to change. He will continue to be available to students to help them practise during lunch or just to give them and their friends a safe place to eat their lunch … even if it means he only knows a third of his fellow-teachers at F.H. Collins.

Johnson says it is gratifying to see a student, who has no friends and eats lunch alone in the cafeteria, join the band and suddenly have a social network and friends to pal around with.

This is a pattern that continues into adulthood. As one student told Bell, she didn’t have to worry about moving to a new community because, if it has a band, there is “instant belonging”.

Here in Whitehorse, the All City Senior Concert Band is recruiting adults and students who have played for three years or more. Information is available at 668-6787 and 456-2843.

PHOTO: RICK MASSIE [email protected]

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