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Grant Helps Energize Fort Erie School's Music Program

by Matthew Vandervoet | Apr 05, 2019

$10,000 buys 14 new instruments, refurbishes 14 more

Apr 01, 2019 by Mike Zettel  ,  Richard Hutton  Fort Erie Post

Music Grant
Music students at Greater Fort Erie Secondary School try out some of the new musical instruments purchased with a $10,000 grant from the CARAS MusicCounts Band-Aid program. - Richard Hutton/Metroland

Like a batter down to his last strike in the bottom of the ninth, Cliff Sayliss decided to swing for the fences — only take the bat out of his hand and replace it with a baton.

Sayliss is the music teacher as well as the program leader for the fine and performing arts program at Greater Fort Erie Secondary School, and he had been trying for the past few years to score funding from the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Science MusicCounts Band-Aid program.

He finally struck pay dirt this year when the school was awarded a grant of $10,000 from the organization.


“We used $8,000 to purchase 14 new instruments and the other $2,000 to refurbish 14 others.”

The end result is a batch of shiny new trombones, trumpets and flutes among other instruments. It was a fresh injection for GFESS’s music program, which only had a few instruments from the previous Fort Erie Secondary School’s music program. The former Ridgeway-Crystal Beach High School, which was merged with FESS to form GFESS, didn’t have a music program.

“We had a very old stock of instruments,” Sayliss said.

It was the third time Sayliss applied for the grant, he said, explaining the first was at the start of the final year for FESS and the second time came last year when GFESS first opened. At the time, he said, the music program was just getting launched and only had preliminary enrolment numbers.

“You could say it was a case of being third-time lucky,” Sayliss said.

With the new school and, in particular, its new theatre, the entire arts program has been re-energized, and enrolment in the music program is up.

“It’s a significant impact in terms of having quality instruments available to the students in this burgeoning program,” he said.

Already, the school has six sections of music classes with 120 students. There are also five different extracurricular ensembles: a junior band, a drum line, a jazz combo, a concert band and a choir.

It should only grow from there, he said.

“The idea is each and every year we’ll be able to grow these ensembles,” he said.


But GFESS’s efforts to expand its music programming comes at a time when the provincial government is cutting funding for education through increasing class sizes and reducing the number of teachers through attrition among other things.

Some also believe the plan put forward by Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government could mean cuts to arts programs.

It’s something that concerns Grade 10 student Alanah Leggett.

“I hate it. I completely disagree,” she said.

Dr. Peter Vietgen, associate professor of visual arts in the faculty of education at Brock University, said any loss of arts programming in schools would deprive students of getting the kind of education they need that will held them become better global citizens.

“Research has demonstrated that for many years,” he said, adding that programs foster such things as creativity, collaboration, confidence, cultural awareness and empathy along with critical thinking.

“These are all key skills for students to success and become successful,” he said.

Additionally, the government should be treading carefully when it comes to class sizes. Under the current provincial plan, class sizes in secondary schools are set to rise from an average of 22 to 28 next fall. It’s a move that won’t work well for arts programs, Vietgen said.

“The ratio needs to be smaller,” he said. “There’s a lot of one-to-one coaching.”

That has helped Leggett, who enrolled in the GFESS program to fulfil a dream and take up the flute.

“It’s something I have always wanted to do,” she said.

And her message to the premier is clear.

“I know the government wants to save money, but you don’t have to cut programs to save money.”

Sayliss, meanwhile, said the town has also benefited from the students’ musical pursuits. Their musical talent has been showcased at many events including Greater Fort Erie Chamber of Commerce's Black Cat Gala, the town’s annual Santa Claus parade, the Ridgeway Spirit of Christmas event and at the council inauguration.

In the future, Sayliss said, he hopes to have the Meridian Centre or the Arts become something of a cultural hub for the town, a place for high school students, elementary school students and the community as a whole can call home.

The MusiCounts Band Aid Program provides up to $15,000 worth of musical instruments and equipment to school music programs to ensure their continued success and sustained growth. Instruments provided are awarded in allotments between $5,000 and $15,000.