American Education Week Features “Parents Day”, Tuesday, November 15
Fruitland has been a “band town” for more than 100 years, according to Band Director Joel Williams, who has been in his current role for 21 of the 26 years he has spent as a teacher. But several years ago Williams realized that if the Fruitland Band was going to reach the high level he envisioned, he was going to need assistance. Fortunately, parents of band members and the community at-large rallied around the band as they always have—with some pretty spectacular results.
“It has been amazing to see the growth of our program,” Williams says. “I have enlisted parents to help us do things, but also tried to make if fun for all of us.” Thanks to Williams’ leadership and the backing of the Fruitland Band Boosters, this small town of about 4,000 people, just across the border from Ontario, OR has seen the size of the band grow to 115 kids—about 25% of the student body.
The Fruitland Band and Color Guard has moved from the 3A classification all the way up to 5A and competes on a regional level along with traditional performances in and around the Fruitland area. That means a lot of practicing for students and a lot of work for parents. “They do so much,” says Williams. “Everything from making about 80 flags a year, to sewing and hemming uniforms to the move in/move out of the band room.” And then there are the props. Whenever the band puts on a show that requires props, it is the Band Boosters who get it done, including building a 53-foot dragon a few years ago. The club also bought a large semi-trailer a few years ago, and the parents did all the work on outfitting the interior. And fundraising. “Always and forever we are fundraising,” says Williams. “Because of the economic situation, we don’t receive any money from the district, so we raise every penny for our travel.”
Participation in band leads to numerous other positive outcomes for students, including on the academic front. “We have a lot of conversations with both parents and students about the importance of academics and citizenship,” says Williams. There is also inherent value to the school and the community from having a thriving and successful band program. “We are the public iteration of Fruitland, and it can be either positive or negative,” notes Williams. “The parents really jump on board and make sure that we put our best face forward.”
Williams is also passionate about his role with the Idaho Education Association and as the president of his local, the Fruitland Education Association. “Advocating for teachers is, at its core, advocating for students,” he says. “The IEA are the folks who deal with the policy makers, and if we aren’t talking with the policy makers then someone less qualified is writing policy.” The FEA has seen a sizeable bump in membership recently following some tough times during the recession, with advocacy, professional development and member benefits among the selling points. “I look at my IEA membership as an insurance policy for my career,” Williams says.
The Fruitland High School Band and Color Guard has become part of the fabric of the community in this rural town, and has had a positive influence of the lives of many students. Williams deserves a sizeable part of the credit, but he knows that it wouldn’t be possible without the backing of some very dedicated parents. “It is really humbling,” he says. “I have the best job in the state.”
For more information about the Fruitland High School Band and Color Guard, visit their website at http://fruitlandband.org/