Interview with Christina Sienkiewicz [Sarah Shen]



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00:00:00 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Sarah: Could you introduce yourself and tell me a little about yourself, your background, and how you got into teaching orchestra at Maggie Walker High School?
Christina: Okay! So, my name is Christina Sienkiewicz and I am new to the Richmond area. Before I came here, I taught in the Charlotte area in North Carolina. I taught at two high schools and I taught adjunct at UNC Charlotte. I have my national boards in teaching, which is actually really hard to get; it’s like equatable to trying to get your masters in about 6 months, versus two years. And I also have my masters in music. I went to UNC Greensboro for both of my degrees, but there was a break in between. So after getting my undergrad, I went and taught for two years and went back full time and had a really unique assistantship where I was able to conduct an orchestra, teach undergraduate classes, and also run a string…uhm pullout program at an at-risk elementary school that was partnered with the Greensboro symphony. So, it was a school for really low-income students, uhm, I think 98% free and reduced lunch. We provided them violin instruction third through fifth grade and that was part of my assistantship. Uh, I played locally in symphonies throughout wherever I lived. Currently I play with the Roanoke symphony, all the way over in Roanoke.
When we first moved here, I did work for a year in Richmond City Schools teaching at five elementary schools. Uhm, but I did not like that job. I’m a high school teacher, like that is just who I am. And because Virginia licensure has this weird thing, where if you sign your contract – you have to sign your contract in June – if you don’t resign by June 15th, you are not eligible to take any other position. So, if a position had opened over the summer that was more ideal, I wouldn’t have been allowed to apply for it. So, I took a risk, I knew I was going to get pregnant, too, so I’m a horrible pregnant person. I would’ve been a terrible teacher while pregnant in a first…eh - you know, my first year in any position. So, uhm, I took a risk, nothing opened up, so I stayed home, I subbed in Chesterfield, and then Maggie Walker opened up and I took the job and it’s great. It’s really helpful and I am an orchestra teacher. Uhm, that’s just who I am and so I had a little bit of an existential crisis, I will be honest, where I was like – I am so sad that we moved here cause I had my dream job in Charlotte, but I’m glad my husband got his dream job in – you know, it’s just hard as, you know, where you think you’re a high-powered female, like, all of a sudden I’m a stay-at-home mom, like, oh my gosh, what have I done to myself? Uhm, but, everything works out the way it needs to, so working at Maggie Walker is kind of a blessing. The students are really, really, talented. They’re hardworking, they’re smart, and it’s high school so it’s what I love to do.

Segment Synopsis: Mrs. Sienkiewicz speaks about her musical background and the process she went through to become an orchestra teacher. She talks about previous musical programs she was involved in as well as her current activities in the Richmond area.

Keywords: Assistantship; Charlotte; Contract; Low-income; Maggie Walker High School; Orchestra; Richmond; Richmond City Schools; Teacher

Subjects: Certification experience; Current position; Musical background; Teaching experience

GPS: Starbucks on Huguenot Road, where the interview took place.
Map Coordinates: 37.56712, -77.53865
00:03:00 - Orchestra Student vs. General Student at Maggie Walker

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Partial Transcript: S: So, you mentioned the students are hardworking, and smart, uhm, do you think these students are an accurate representation of the general population at the school?
C: Absolutely n– oh at the school? I was gonna say general population, no. At Maggie Walker, yeah, yeah absolutely. So, I can say from being in a traditional, uhm, high school setting before, I taught at three uniquely different high schools. Most recently, I taught at a high school with very affluent students and then students, uhm, who were from essentially the projects. And my orchestra population at that school was not reflective of the school environment, because I didn’t have any of those low-income students. String education has a barrier, where it’s just expensive. And if you want to get good at it, you kind of have to take private lessons or have a supportive family. So if you are from a low-income family, there are a lot of barriers you have to overcome in order to reach it – uhm, the level of high school, uh, getting into it. And then the other school where I taught, was lower middle class and it was reflective of the student population. So it just really depends on what your school is.
Maggie Walker? All of the students who were in orchestra prior to coming there, uhm, were in their orchestra programs, uhm, at their schools. I don’t have any kids who were home schooled or were in any unique schools where there wasn’t an orchestra program. So, they already kind of had a leg up that they had access to an orchestra program in their schools. Uhm, now there are students at Maggie Walker who come from like, King and Queens county, in Powhatan, in those counties that don’t have orchestra programs. So if you want to talk about that reflection, maybe some of the more rural settings, I don’t have those kids in my class just because they didn’t have access to it prior to high school.

Segment Synopsis: Mrs. Sienkiewicz speaking about how the students in the orchestra are reflective of the student population as a whole. Furthermore, she discusses how this was not the case at previous high schools she has taught at.

Keywords: Affluent; Barriers; General; Low-income; Middle class; Orchestra; Representation

Subjects: Accurate representation of whole population; General student at Maggie Walker compared to orchestra student; Lack of rural student presence; Rich vs. poor students at other high schools

00:04:54 - Matriculating into the Orchestra

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Partial Transcript: S: So, uh, when students are going into the orchestra at Maggie Walker, do they need to audition? [No] Or is it just one orchestra or are –
C: There’s two. So, there’s a freshmen orchestra and then there’s the advanced orchestra, which is everybody else. Currently that’s how it is.
S: So, do you find that most of your students – I know you said that they come from high schools with orchestra programs –
C: Middle schools.
S: Yeah, middle schools with orchestra programs. But, uhm, do – in addition to that – do a lot of the students have private lessons outside of class? Or?
C: So, I’m new this year. And one of my goals is to improve the attrition rate. So last year, the freshmen class had twenty some students in it. And this year, there are only seven sophomores, which is a really bad dropout rate for orchestra. Not gonna speak anything about the previous teacher, but he wasn’t a strings player. So there was definitely some, you know, boundaries there for him trying to motivate students to stay in the program. Uhm, so, in my upper orchestra, the students that mostly got – mostly make up the upper orchestra – are students who are in the youth symphony and the youth symphony requires them to be in their school orchestra program. And if you’re in the youth symphony, you’re taking private lessons. Yeah, you can’t, [inaudible].
S: You briefly mentioned, like, some students – not some students are coming from Powhatan county?
C: They’re – so uhm, do you understand how Maggie Walker works? Ish?
S: Uhm, yeah, like how different counties fund their own students to come to Maggie Walker.
C: Yeah. So, it’s basically all of the – there’s twelve surrounding districts that are allowed to apply to come to Maggie Walker. So my students, that I have in my class, only come from Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover, and Richmond city. No other county has orchestra programs and something to be aware of is that Richmond city doesn’t even have orchestra in all of the middle schools. I think only two middle schools have orchestra programs.
S: What are those two middle schools?
C: Binford has an orchestra teacher and I feel like MLK got an orchestra teacher? And maybe Boushall, maybe. Uhm, but they do offer fourth and fifth grade strings. So, students can take violin, viola, cello, or – and brass, uhm, wind instruments as well in fourth and fifth grade. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re gonna be continuing into middle school.
S: So, would it be accurate to say that most of your students come from these middle schools with orchestra programs, or if they don’t come from middle schools with these orchestra programs, then they’ve already been taking private lessons outside of class [inaudible]?
C: All my students were in middle school programs. All of them. Yeah they all came from – yep. Yeah.

Segment Synopsis: Mrs. Sienkiewicz talks about student matriculation into orchestra at Maggie Walker. All of her students come from middle schools with orchestra programs, and a lot of the students are part of the Richmond Youth Symphony. Furthermore, many middle schools lack orchestra programs, thus she has limited county diversity in her orchestra class.

Keywords: Advanced; Boundaries; Districts; Freshmen; Maggie Walker; Middle schools; Orchestra; Private Lessons; Programs; Youth Symphony

Subjects: Attrition rate for orchestra at Maggie Walker; Impact of previous orchestra programs on high school matriculation; Levels of orchestra; Middle schools with orchestra programs

00:08:00 - Impact of Orchestra on Students

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Partial Transcript: S: So, what kind of an impact does playing in the orchestra have on the students?
C: Uh, impact personally, or like, their GPA, or?
S: More of the personal, but also maybe their academics as well.
C: So personally, I feel like orchestra is that one class where you’re gonna be guaranteed to have a few friends all four years. So, if you’re coming in as a freshman and you continue all four years, you’re gonna have a guaranteed class with them. And my general philosophy in the classroom is that we’re gonna work our butts off, but we’re gonna have fun while doing it. So, at Maggie Walker it’s a very intensive academic program, curriculum, the students are working really hard. They take eight classes a year, at a time. They have eight classes to manage every week. Coming to orchestra allows them to, you know, you’re a musician, when you practice it, it allows you to release a lot of stress that you have. Uh, it can cause stress too, absolutely, when you’re practicing something really hard. But, you know, the end result is, wow, I just worked really hard, I sound good now; or I’ve made some improvement and there’s this sort of, uhm, pride in that. Right? So, they can be very proud of what they’ve accomplished.
As far as academics are concerned, I mean I can show you a lot of data, but I mean I track the data of all my graduating seniors before, uhm. Almost all of my seniors, uhm, universities that they apply to, their top choice, would get in. Even taking orchestra all four years. And there’s this stipulation that I have to take all these AP classes, or I have to take all these really hard classes. But, universities don’t always like to see that. They want to see that you’re dedicated to an art, or, dedicated to some extra – not necessarily extracurricular – but something else, like, you know, computer science. Like if you took computer science all four years, you’re really dedicated to that. Or you took some STEM class, uh, so taking orchestra all four years does not hurt you at all in your chances of getting into your dream school.

Segment Synopsis: Mrs. Sienkiewicz discusses the positive impacts orchestra has on students. She also speaks about dedication and how it can benefit students when it comes to college applications.

Keywords: Academics; Accomplishment; Commitment; Dedication; Friends; Fun; GPA; Impact; Orchestra; Personal; Stress

Subjects: Benefit from dedication to activity; Long-term friends throughout high school; Orchestra's impact on students; Stress relief

00:10:09 - History of Orchestra at Maggie Walker and Attrition Rate

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Partial Transcript: S: I know you said you’re new, but what do you know about the history of orchestra – or the orchestra class – at Maggie Walker?
C: Well, the attrition rate is pretty sad. Uhm, I know that. And I guess there’s this general mentality that you take it once and that was enough? And that’s something that’s in the culture that we’re trying to change. And I say we, as in there’s three new music faculty this year. In the past, it was one teacher doing band and orchestra, and then one teacher doing chorus. And now there’s a professional doing – so I’m doing orchestra, there’s a band teacher doing band, and there’s a chorus teacher doing chorus. And our jobs, essentially, is to boost and build the programs. So, we’re trying to get rid of that mentality.
S: Do you know how it has changed over time before you got here, and how it came to be that the attrition rate was so low?
C: I – you know, a lot of it’s gonna have to do with, uh, the teacher was not a strings teacher before. Uhm, and the other barrier, is that I have students in my class that are wind players. So I have oboes, and bassoons, and horn…and a clarinet and a couple flutes. And they are in the orchestra class because they don’t want to be in jazz band. There is no concert band setting. So, uhm, I – and this is something we are just getting the numbers on, where we have to look at freshmen transcripts to see if they were in band in 8th and to find out if they aren’t in band now because they were intimated by only being in jazz band or orchestra. Because concert band is not a choice for them. Uhm, so, uhm, that is kind of bizarre to me to have those in my classroom because I’m not sure what to do with them sometimes. Like I literally don’t know what to do with them. But, the string [laughs], the string players not as freshmen, having a wind player teaching them, frustrated a lot of them. So, I have heard from parents that, uh, because the previous teacher didn’t play strings, he kind of catered to higher level players…because he didn’t know how to teach the students who needed remediation, so to speak. And so for me, I’m a string player, this is what I do, hopefully that changes things.
S: That’s interesting, because I was in my high school orchestra, and all we had were string instruments in the orchestra, and we had concert band – no jazz band – just concert band, but it was all, like, wind instruments. Uhm, so -
C: So, I’ve always done full orchestra. When I taught previously, I would do full orchestra in the spring. So, you know, marching band is all fall. And it’s like all the wind students live and breathe this marching band. And so, I would offer the opportunity in the spring for them to sign up for full symphony orchestra and we did after school rehearsals. So, I would only manage winds, like an hour once a week, whereas now where it’s every day in my class. I’m not sure how to incorporate them into warmups, I’m not sure how to improve their technique, because that’s not my specialty. It is very unique.
S: Is one of the new faculty a band - ?
C: He is. Mhm.
S: So, is he – is Maggie Walker going to start a concert band? And –
C: They won’t let us next year. Because we’re new, they don’t want to change so quickly. So, next year it has to stay as is, where there’s just the option of jazz band or orchestra. So, if you’re an incoming – so if you’re an incoming winds student, your instrument’s not usually found in jazz band, like a double reed, you’re gonna be in orchestra.
S: So, it’s kind of difficult to incorporate the winds into orchestra at the moment.
C: At the moment. Now if I was a winds person, I would be able to incorporate them. But then again, I’m not able to help the strings. Like, so it’s a catch 22, you know. I don’t know of a single other class…anywhere that has winds in their – like winds and strings together all the time. Way back 50, 60 years ago, that was the norm. It was a full orchestra class, there were no band classes. It’s just not today.

Segment Synopsis: Mrs. Sienkiewicz discusses reasons why the attrition rate has been so low for orchestra the past few years. She goes into detail about the lack of concert band and how it impacts both the students and teachers.

Keywords: Attrition rate; Choice; Full symphony; Jazz band; Orchestra; Wind players

Subjects: Difficult to manage full symphony orchestra; Lack of concert band; Low attrition rate; Reasons for low attrition rate

00:14:45 - Off-Campus Activities and Funding

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Partial Transcript: S: What kind of activities is the orchestra involved in outside of Maggie Walker’s campus?
C: Uhm…so performing?
S: Performing, uhm, going to see concerts…
C: Okay, so we went to a Richmond Symphony Dress rehearsal last week, we came to the University of Richmond and had a neat gamelon experience, we are performing at Maymont in December, we just got invited – our quartet – to perform at the Governor’s mansion in December as well. But there are some really – all state players – really, really, really top notch musicians that, uhm, we have a string quartet that can basically gig like a professional ensemble.
S: Is this string quartet – how is it made? Cause it’s separate from the orchestra, right?
C: Yeah, it’s basically a club. So, Maggie Walker is full of clubs. Like students are – yeah – so they’re, uhm, it’s called Cantante. I have no idea where they came up with that. I was like – cantabile, cantante, where did you – get? [laughs] I don’t understand. It’s called Cantante and there’s a student who is in charge of it. And they hold auditions and decide – and now their quartet is actually a sextet this year, cause they couldn’t decide. And that’s fine.
S: So it’s completely student run?
C: It’s student run. Yeah and I help them. And I – they have – I gave them access to all of my gig music. They rehearse after school or during lunch. It’s a unique high school experience in that there’s only one lunch. So, students have all the same lunch. They can do – they can have club meetings, or rehearsals and whatnot.
S: So, how are these on campus activities funded?
C: Uhm, they don’t usually cost money. Students have to drive themselves.
S: Oh, so the parents of the students usually fund?
C: Yeah.
S: Even like the bus transportation fees, like going from the school?
C: So, we have – if we have to take a bus or something, we have a boosters organization. Maggie Walker boosters, which is in charge of band, orchestra, and chorus.
S: Do these boosters do fundraising?
C: They do, uhm, one really big fundraiser every spring that’s a silent auction. Again, I’m new, I don’t know what exactly – they have money, there’s money in the account, where they get it I’m not sure, but it’s there. [laughs]
S: [laughs] But it’s there.
C: [laughs] It’s there. Yeah. And then that – if there’s a need that they aren’t able to meet, usually Maggie Walker is able to accommodate our requests.
S: You’re not sure what the details of how Maggie Walker accommodates these requests?
C: They have a foundation. So, uhm, they – so Maggie Walker’s funding comes from the state. If, uhm, they are not able to fund from their general funds, they have a foundation; which is, basically, reaching out to alumni, they hold special events, hold – I think a gala? Yeah, they get pretty fancy. I will say that it’s like a private school, with a lot of private benefits, even though it’s completely public.

Segment Synopsis: Mrs. Sienkiewicz discusses off-campus activities and how they are funded. In addition to state funds, their money also comes from the Music Boosters Organization as well as the Maggie Walker Foundation.

Keywords: Activities; Benefits; Boosters organization; Cantante; Fees; Foundation; Funding; Fundraiser; Private; Public; Student clubs

Subjects: Boosters organization and Maggie Walker Foundation; How does Maggie Walker cover fees; Money for additional requests; Off-campus activities orchestra students participate in

00:18:04 - Funding at Other Richmond Schools

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Partial Transcript: S: Uhm, you mentioned teaching at some of the elementary schools before going to Maggie Walker?
C: Yeah.
S: How did the funding for the string programs in those schools compare to that of Maggie Walker?
C: Uhm, I don’t think there was funding. [audio fades as she goes to pick up baby] So, uh, I had a lot of issues with that position. Uhm, I disagreed – I basically quit because I completely disagreed with how everything was being formatted. Uhm – [laughs] say hi.
S: [waves at baby]
C: Uhm, I was – ugh. I was told when I interviewed for that position, that they were trying to boost the numbers in the program so that they could eventually get students enrolled in middle school and rehire teachers. There’s a lot of logistics as to why that doesn’t work. But, uhm, that I would be teaching a lot of low-income students; and fast forward, I get in the classrooms, I start talking to students, and they are super low-income. Not going to be able to afford instruments and there’s no instruments at school. So I ask where can we get instruments and they’re like, well, the students have to provide them. And I have a real ethical issue with providing something for students but not actually providing them the means to do it. So, if I’m gonna give my students to do something, I better provide the means for them to do it. If that is public education, you can’t offer something and then say, oh you can’t afford it? Then you can’t join.
S: Yeah.
C: So, I actually did a donors choose and got the community involved and got – I think thirty violins donated, and all my students – anyone who wanted to sign up for orchestra, signed up for it. Well, my, uh, boss didn’t like that, she didn’t – I got in trouble because it turned into a news article. I got in trouble because I let the students take their instruments home, cause there’s another barrier that I feel like, you know, okay, we’ve given the students instruments, well in order to succeed on an instrument, you have to be able to practice. So, you know, even in low-income settings you’re gonna have – you know, students whose parents are gonna be able to provide for their children, even if it means, like, you know, they’re putting it on a credit card. They make poor decisions, but they’ll still provide for their child. And then you have – I had many, many kids that were homeless. Uhm, living in cars, or from house to house.
S: In middle school?
C: In elementary school.
S: In elementary school.
C: Mhm. And uhm, so, you know, their parents weren’t gonna be able to provide for them at all. So, you allow these students, even though they’re both considered low-income, one of them is still going to get better things from it than the other cause they have the opportunity to practice. And that’s still a problem. So, if we’re gonna have again – equal – equal is equal. We have to provide them instruments, they all have to be able to practice. Well, I got in trouble with that, too. And then, I found an instrument vendor that was willing to repair all of our broken instruments at no cost, and I was going to drive them up there and do this. Well she got wind of that, and I got in trouble for that. So, I quit. [laughs] Because I was really frustrated with all of the no, we can’t do that, no, we can’t do that, uhm, mentality versus like, why aren’t we working so hard to help all of these students best we can.
S: Was this at one elementary school or was this at multiple elementary schools?
C: I taught at five. Uhm, but I had one supervisor, who’s in charge of music for the entire system.
S: The entire system?
C: Mhm. Yeah.
S: Do you know, like, what eventually happened? With the violins, or?
C: They hired a new teacher after I quit and uh, they’re still there. But, I don’t – I know at the end of the year she eventually adopted my idea on students being able to practice. But it had to turn around and be her idea, so it was – I don’t know if that’s still the case, I was only there for one year so it’s…uhm, I do know that the middle schools still – and that was another problem I had: why am I teaching fourth and fifth graders an instrument, when they’re not going to be able to continue playing into middle school? It [laughs] – like what am I doing? They’re not gonna all of a sudden get private lessons. They – if they can’t even afford an instrument, you know how much private lessons cost, there’s just no way. None. So, I had a lot of philosophical differences.
S: Do you think this is also a problem with local high schools? Other than Maggie Walker, who – I guess their students are…
C: No. I’ll say that, uhm, I have never experienced a public school that wasn’t able to provide for their students. That, that is the generally – that’s what is required. If you offer the opportunity to be in a class, you have to take a biology class, do they ask you to buy your biology book in high school? No. It’s provided for you. So you can’t offer the students to take orchestra and then say, oh you can’t afford an instrument? It needs to be provided for you. I have never experienced that, no.
What I do feel is an issue is the lack of diversity in the upper levels. Like I talked about in the high school I taught, where there were really affluent students and then students in the high school that came from, uhm, the projects. So, Title Section 8 housing, which is government funded, just – there was just this weird dynamic at this high school, there was no middle class. It was either - like my concert master was a billionare’s daughter in a public school. And then there were students that were homeless at this school. I had a homeless student in my orchestra. But only one – the rest of the orchestra were all, you know, affluent students. And really the only way to overcome that is to go meet the students where they are. If you went to the middle school where the students started, uhm, a lot of the, you know, a lot of the barriers in low-income is that parents are not around and they’re not able to deal with things. So, you know, trying to get those students maybe some extra help, some free lessons, you know, having high schoolers go down to help them so that they can stay on par with their peers and not end up [inaudible]. Plus, music is so hard. String instruments especially are really hard to play at first. Just giving them that extra, uhm, extra help to keep them on pace with their peers would help at the upper levels.
S: So, you mentioned how you provided – after doing the fundraiser – you provided thirty violins -
C: So basically, I don’t know what it was. But it was – I had so many students that needed instruments, I reached out to the community. I would email people on Craigslist and say, I see you’re trying to sell this violin, would you rather donate it? Like, would say that I have a letter from a 5013C that will make it a tax-deductible donation for you and that’ll be in use for several years to come, by several students, and was able to get instruments that way. So a lot of donation – people just finding ones in their attic, and say that were unable to sell secondhand, and then through donors choose.
S: Does Maggie Walker provide their students with instruments?
C: Oh! Uhm, not the school exactly, but the boosters will buy instruments if the students need one. So, I have a student who – a bassoon player, bassoons are really expensive – so he plays a school bassoon. I think our tuba players also play school tubas, they’re not in my class. Uhm but, yeah. We have six cellos but – so the students don’t have to bring them back and forth.
S: I know when I was in my high school orchestra, I had to pay $100 a year to rent the instrument from the school, they don’t do that at Maggie Walker?
C: No, I don’t – I don’t know if you can actually require that, but – I mean, you can ask for it. That helps a lot of programs that maybe don’t have really strong boosters or school support, because in my previous programs, I didn’t have any money for repairs. So what that does, is that if something happens to that cello, well, you have a $100 deposit from the student. You can use that to help repair.

Segment Synopsis: Mrs. Sienkiewicz discusses difficulties she's had previously in other Richmond schools for funding. The elementary school she worked at was unable to provide for the students; in comparison, Maggie Walker has plenty of money to provide students with instruments.

Keywords: Affluent; Affordability; Elementary schools; Equality; Ethical issues; Instruments; Low-income; Provide; Rehire; Teachers

Subjects: Funding at elementary schools in RPS; Lack of resources; Public schools unable to provide for the programs they offer; Rejection of ideas instead of working towards improvement

00:27:18 - Impact on Music Scene in RVA

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Partial Transcript: S: Moving forward, what kind of an impact does the orchestra have on the high school music scene in Richmond in general?
C: What kind of impact…Richmond music scene. I don’t know how to answer that. Cause I’m new, I don’t know how it’s impacting. I know in my previous programs I tried to make them as visible as possible. So we played at community festivals and had students playing…uhm, there are some organizations within Maggie Walker; some interesting things, tidbits, there is an organization called Music Orchard that was started by a Maggie Walker student about – I think – eight or nine years ago that is designed to get high school and university – so, VCU students – into the low-income Richmond city schools to teach free private lessons. And that is a 5013C that’s run through Maggie Walker. So that is kind of a, pretty big impact. It was started by a student, not directly the orchestra, it’s any Maggie Walker student or VCU student that wants to help provide free lessons to low-income students. And then, we also have an organization called Tri-M. And the tri stands for music – the band, orchestra, and chorus – and they’re required to do volunteering in the community as well. So I wouldn’t say that the orchestra program, but maybe the students within Maggie Walker that are musicians do provide for the community.

Segment Synopsis: Mrs. Sienkiewicz discusses how Maggie Walker orchestra students impact the local RVA music community.

Keywords: Community; Music Orchard; Service; Tri-M; VCU; Visibility

Subjects: Community service done by orchestra students; Impact on RVA community

00:28:53 - Other High School Orchestras and Conclusion

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Partial Transcript: S: How does the Maggie Walker orchestra compare to other high school orchestras in the areas that you know of in terms of student breakdown, just like the kinds of students.
C: Are you talking about race or uhm..gender, playing ability, all of that?
S: Yeah, all of that.
C: I would say it’s a little bit more diverse than I expected. Uhm, not as diverse as I would want it to be, considering it’s supposed to be encompassing 12 different counties, and that has to do with I don’t have many, if any really low-income kids in my program. And you have to understand the barriers too is that, uhm, Maggie Walker is for gifted students. I’m not saying that low-income students can’t be gifted, they can be but a lot of times a gifted student has a parent who is extremely involved in their lives and able to provide them opportunities that a low-income parent wouldn’t, who is working three or four jobs that’s unable to provide that for them. So, that is just a boundary in general for Maggie Walker to try and get more low-income students there.
I have a surprising number of males; I will be honest that orchestra is usually mostly female. I have a good number of males in my orchestra, which is really exciting. As far as playing ability, I’d say it’s pretty wide range, actually. If you look at my freshmen class, there is, uhm, there are a couple of students who [laughs] when we’re playing something I can see they’re turning pale white, like, how am I supposed to play this, like freaking out. And then I have a student who is third chair, first violin, all-state, as a freshman, like he’s really, really good. And so, you know, how do you teach that class? How do you make sure you’re teaching the advanced student so that he is engaged and wanting to work hard and then also reach the student who is struggling?
S: What about other high schools in the area? Do you know how their orchestras function?
C: I don’t. Since I’m new to Virginia, I don’t entirely know. I do know that in Henrico, there are issues surrounding the fact that if you teach orchestra, you are probably also teaching chorus. So, you might actually be a choral person teaching orchestra at a high school, which is not…not ideal for the students or the teacher, even. Uhm, but really for the students it’s a disservice to them. So Henrico, I guess a few years ago, decided they were no longer going to allow – and string teachers often travel between schools – so in Charlotte I taught at two high schools. I was at one high school one day, and another high school the next day. It was a full-time job between two schools, but wasn’t enough on their own. My first job was teaching middle and high school, so I traveled during lunch. I don’t know – I could probably count on one hand how many teachers I know teach full time strings at one school. It’s just not, it’s not usually something that happens. So in Henrico, they decided they didn’t want to pay for teachers to travel between schools, and they said, okay, you’re going to stay at the middle school and teach chorus and orchestra, you’re going to stay at the high school and teach chorus and orchestra, uhm, or chorus and maybe a section of band. You know, whatever, they’re just making them teach subjects that they’re not highly qualified in. Uhm, so I would say that the Henrico high school programs are probably not great, I don’t know much about them.
I know in Hanover they’re really good. But, they have a string teacher who teaches at the middle and high school and so they directly feed themselves. So if you teach at the middle school, you teach the kids for three years and then you teach at the high school for four more years; you’ve had the same teacher for seven years and if they’re a good teacher, it’s gonna be a really good program. And there’s not bussing going around so whatever school you’re going to it’s going to be reflective of the population around you. So if you’re in Hanover, you’re in a rural area, you’re gonna be with a lot of rural-type students. You’re not having city people in your orchestra, it’s just, your neighborhood, your hood, you know?
Same thing in Chesterfield. Chesterfield is just generally, is very middle class, uhm, not very diverse. Henrico is way more diverse than Chesterfield is. But Chesterfield has specialty high schools, like Midlothian is an IB school and Clover Hill is – I think a computer science school or something. So I don’t know how they work down there but there are some really good programs in Chesterfield.
S: In closing, what are your hopes for the orchestra in the future?
C: That I can get the attrition rate to zero. [laughs] In my previous programs I only ever had one or two kids drop from freshmen to sophomore year and it was usually cause of a scheduling conflict. So, I imagine that the program will be much bigger next year and that it’ll continue to grow and maybe in the next four or five years maybe have three orchestras instead of two.
S: That was really helpful, thank you.
C: You’re welcome.

Segment Synopsis: Mrs. Sienkiewicz discusses other high schools in the area and their orchestra programs. The interview concludes with her thoughts and hopes on the future of Maggie Walker's orchestra.

Keywords: Attrition; Chesterfield (Va.); Gender; Gifted; Hanover (Va.); Henrico County (Va.); High school; Low-income; Orchestra; Playing ability; Race; Rural

Subjects: Hopes for the future; Other high school programs around RVA