By Debbie Ross-Preston For Peninsula Daily News
FORKS — The rhythmic sound of drumsticks striking plastic chairs reverberated in the Forks Middle School band room as music teacher Erika Rudnicki took students through a percussion piece.
Though the school was nearing the end of the school year before the summer break, the restless students focused once Rudnicki readied her own sticks for another run through the exercise.
The class, called STOMP, was just one way to get students interested in music.
“Because we started this program from scratch and didn’t have enough percussion instruments for everyone, the drum sticks and chairs were an accessible way for kids to get excited about music,” Rudnicki said.
The excitement has spread.
Rudnicki will go from having about 10 students who stayed after school for band during the last school year to more than 60 fifth-grade students who signed up for band in the 2011-2012 school year.
“It’s amazing. That’s more than 90 percent of the incoming students. It presents some challenges, but it’s a great problem to have,” Rudnicki said.
Quillayute Valley School District voters approved a two-year $626,348 property tax levy in February to pay for reinstatement of the district’s music program, which was eliminated five years ago under state budget cuts, as well as for such maintenance projects as replacing the roof of one of the high school gymnasiums and upgrading the heating system at Forks Elementary School.
The levy is paying for a second music teacher in 2012 that will be dedicated to Forks Elementary School and assist Rudnicki with building music literacy throughout the district.
“Erika has excellent rapport with the students,” said Patti Fouts, Forks Middle School principal.
“She gets kids motivated and excited.”
Maya Trettevik, 12, plays clarinet. She is already looking forward to her second year of music.
“I wanted to have more music — the teacher was always happy to see us,” Trettevik said.
“I like playing with the rest of the class and not by myself.”
Rudnicki makes it a point not to schedule public performances for students until they are confident in their own abilities.
“To perform in public takes time,” Fouts said.
“We hope parents are patient and willing to wait until the performance is rewarding for the kids and the parents.”
Rudnicki will re-start the Forks High School Band next year following two years without it.
She hopes to have a band traveling to festivals by the third year.
“Forks has a history of doing well at music festivals in the past. We’re building back to that point,” Rudnicki said.
“The school board and the voters have been so supportive of bringing music back,” Fouts said.
“The district commits to paying for the teachers, and we’re able to compete for grants to pay for instruments for kids who can’t afford them.”
“It’s exciting,” Rudnicki said. “It’s going to really start moving next year with building the literacy component and all these new kids and an additional teacher.”
________Debbie Ross-Preston is a freelance writer and photographer living in Forks.