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Bigger schools aren’t always better

After living in several large cities, I was unsure what would greet me when I returned to my small hometown. How would this be different? Big cities are often very arrogant about what they have to offer, and at times can scoff at the opportunities (or they say lack thereof) in a small community. In my first weeks here at The Chronicle, I was given my first chance to explore some of these differences.
I had the opportunity to attend seventh- and eighth-grade band and choir concerts, one in our community and one in a much larger community in a school district with a lot more money. I expected differences, but the differences I found just blew my mind.  
At the larger school I noticed right away the way the students were dressed. Now, I’m all for expression through fashion, but most of the trends I saw displayed were quite inappropriate. Uggs and flip-flops abounded. Most of the girls were wearing very revealing or casual clothing, showing very little modesty and (I think) respect for themselves, their instructors and their audience.  
Next, I could not help but notice their behavior. As they waited to perform, they were anything but attentive. Constantly talking to each other, they ignored their peers onstage. When it was time to change groups, it was chaos. They all clambered up the front of the stage and discussed just how they would be sitting, as if they had never been organized before. Their instructors practically begged for their attention, but were mostly ignored.  
Two days later, I saw the concert here at GSL and I was shocked at the difference. All of the students were dressed alike, and very modestly at that. Their parents obviously made the effort to put their kids in dress clothes. And to that mom who put her kid in a bowtie, I salute you.  
The students’ behavior was just as different. They filed in silently, practically tiptoeing to their assigned seats, where they waited for their conductor to take the podium. As they sat there perfectly poised, all you could hear was their anticipatory breathing, hopeful that they play or sing well.
Now you may say, “So what, Jess? Some schools are just more laid back. Lighten up; there’s no real harm in having a relaxed atmosphere.” But I think there is harm.  Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge supporter of the arts, but I do believe in putting forth our “first fruits.” That being said, I must admit sadly that the lack of discipline directly influenced the students’ performances at the larger school.  
So what does this all mean? Are small communities just better than big communities? Are small-town kids just more respectful? All it means to me is that the budget or size of a school district do not necessarily reflect the quality of education the kids receive.
At the end of the choir portion, director Kay Wilson encouraged everyone to attend the high school choir concert, and especially to come to sing with the choir on the annual performance of “From East to West.” She was quite obviously eyeballing those of us she hoped to see there, and we knew we better get our butts to that concert.
Monday night after the school board meeting, I was able to catch the tail end of it. As usual, alumni were invited onstage to sing the traditional tunes. I expected to be overcome by a wave of nostalgia being up on that stage, but I was struck by a very different feeling, that of inspiration. I was inspired to be surrounded by the students, working so hard to perform well and doing it with such poise, just as the junior high choirs had done.
I could only wonder at the potential all around me. Not just musical potential, but potential for advancement in all walks of life. I can tell already that the best part of this job will be watching the young people of this community grow and aspire to bring some of that GSL discipline and mindfulness out into the world.