The instrumental music program at Diamond Bar (California) High School (DBHS) is considered one of the most successful and comprehensive programs on the West Coast. With more than 700 students enrolled in the program, performing ensembles have received local and regional recognition, and the ensembles have received national honors.
The philosophy at Diamond Bar is that a successful comprehensive high school allows students to succeed in four core areas – “The Four As” – Academics, Activities, Athletics and the Arts.
Arts students participate in three orchestras, three wind bands, competitive parade band, string ensembles, rock and jazz ensembles, two marching percussion lines, four percussion ensembles, chamber music, three color guards, two dance teams, four choirs, and a comprehensive drama department. In 2014, DBHS was awarded the National Grammy Signature School award as the top school in the nation for its commitment to arts education.
Groups have been invited to prestigious performances, including the Rose Bowl Parade and national competitions, all with tremendous success. Nearly 100 students participate in local youth bands and orchestras, including the prestigious American Youth Orchestra. Students who graduate from DBHS show tremendous success at major universities and conservatories such as Julliard, Colburn, Curtis, New England Conservatory, Columbia, Stanford, Yale, Michigan and UCLA.
The success of the instrumental music program can be traced to one major factor – support. Support from the district level, the site administration, parents, the community and local artists. These groups work cooperatively to provide the music students the most comprehensive program available, with an eye toward producing intelligent consumers of the arts.
The Walnut Valley School District has a philosophy of “Every Child, Every Day.” This approach, coupled with a true commitment to excellence, has fostered an environment that allows students and teachers to thrive. The district administration and the school board have developed a strong relationship not only with the school sites, but the program directors at the sites. Schools are allowed to develop the programs that best fit the needs of their students, not trying for the “cookie cutter” approach to education. There is a strong commitment from the district for a level playing field for all students, providing resources and opportunities for all students regardless of their background.
The site administration is a key factor in the success of the program. Through creative scheduling, flexibility and an individualized approach for each student, the school is set up for students with multiple interests to succeed in a multitude of activities. A student can be the captain of the football team and an All-State brass player, or the editor of the yearbook, valedictorian and the orchestra concert master. The master schedule is set up with careful thought to conflicts, and the counselors work directly with the program directors and coaches to make sure students have as many opportunities as possible.
From a facilities standpoint, extra rooms are made available to provide learning spaces for the ever-expanding program, allowing unique programs such as chamber music, harp ensemble and hand bell choir to exist. Summer school classes beyond remediation are provided to allow students multiple opportunities for electives during the regular school year. Additional before- and after-school classes are allowed for students in multiple programs to help with academic scheduling on impacted years. Financial support is provided to the program, allowing the music teachers to bring in professional musicians to reach all students, regardless of their background or socioeconomic situation.
Parental support also plays a major role in the success at Diamond Bar. The parents have set up an advisory group that facilitates communication between the program directors and parents. There is open dialogue among all the stakeholders to allow the directors to understand the needs of the community, and the parents to understand the expectations of the directors. The group functions differently than a booster group, in that it becomes a shared decision-making process for the betterment of the students, not merely a fundraising group.
The Diamond Bar community is also a strong supporter of the instrumental music program. There is a robust partnership with many of the local businesses, which provide both financial support and performance opportunities. It is rare that an event happens in the community where a school performance group is not involved. Car dealerships have donated cars, other businesses have donated goods and services, and in exchange the school groups provide entertainment and advertising for the business owners. It is a very profitable relationship for all.
The final component of the program’s success is the relationship the school has with local professional musicians. There is a team of 14 professionals that works directly with the students, teaching individuals and small groups. These individuals provide high-level instruction to all students to maximize their potential. They are actively involved in all aspects of the program, from the structure of the classes, to the choice of repertoire, to fundraising.
With the large number of students, and the diverse opportunities provided, the additional professionals make sure that there is an adult for every student and every occasion. The professionals work with the students on college portfolios and recordings, additional instruction for individual interests, specialized performance opportunities and academic support. These professionals become mentors and role models for the students, helping guide them through the trials and tribulations of high school life.
The support from all of these groups has truly made Diamond Bar High School a special place, where students can thrive, achieve, express themselves and become outstanding contributors to society.
Steven Acciani has been director of instrumental music in the Walnut Valley School District for the past 26 years, 18 years at South Pointe Middle School, and the past eight years at Diamond Bar High School. He was recently named as a finalist for the Grammy Foundation Music Educator of the Year.