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How one Montana band teacher is staying motivated after a challenging start to the school year

josey quinones band.jpg
Olivia Weitz
Yellowstone Public Radio
Josey Quiñones directs band class outside of Monforton Middle School in Bozeman. The students are back in person after 18 months away because of the pandemic.

Staffing shortages and COVID outbreaks have meant a rough start to the school year, and it’s presented teachers with some challenges.

Josey Quiñones is a band teacher at Monforton Middle School west of Bozeman whose students are meeting in person this school year — sometimes outdoors — after an 18-month break during the pandemic. He shared this reflection with YPR's Olivia Weitz:

"Before COVID I had about 40 kids in the 7th and 8th grade band, and now we’ve got a group of about 30.

A lot of those students were hesitant to join the band again because they had such a long time between when they had played their instrument last, and so it took a little bit of persuasion and reaching out to students individually to get them interested and to get them to try it out again.

It’s just interesting too this year because all of our students have had such a different experience the past two school years that there’s a lot of fundamentals we have to reteach. Like, I’m reteaching rhythms and aspects that I wouldn’t have expected to have have needed to cover as much.

monforton band practice.jpg
Olivia Weitz
Yellowstone Public Radio
Since the start of the school year, members of the Monforton Middle School band often practiced outdoors on the lawn at the school.

I would say that the students that did decide to try it out have been having a great time. They’ve been making great progress again. And I think they are probably glad that they did because they’re working together, and I can tell from their class specifically that they are really feeling the community again.

Re-opening this year was stressful because we had a lot of students out within the first five days. We shut down several classes because of the spread. We didn’t have staff. It was really rough on kids, rough on the teachers. This year I would say has been harder for me and harder for a lot of teachers because we don’t have as much solidarity behind us in doing what is best for students in keeping them learning the best way that we can. It’s been a challenge for us.

This year's been really hard. I’ve never really considered other jobs, and this year the thought has crossed my mind. It’s something that I really don’t want to entertain because I love teaching, and what keeps me going is that the students, when they’re in my class, they find something that they can be part of.

I want to be able to offer that same experience as well because I don’t know which students might still be coming to school because music is their thing, or which students have found a spot where they feel like they can belong."

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.