Challenge to school district: Keep arts education thriving

After 43 years of hard work and dedication, and very early mornings, choir director Renée C. Henderson has announced her retirement from KCHS.

Renée became a part of our family long before I ever showed up. My mom and dad met her the month after they were married, when they moved into the apartment below her in Old Town Kenai after having moved from Minnesota and Adak. Educators met, and friendships formed. By the time I came along, that relationship was already seasoned. Renée has always been a big part of my life, from the time I was two years old, singing “Wudolf the Wed-nosed Waindeer” in her Christmas concert, to last June, when she directed the choir of KCHS alumnae at our wedding in Minnesota.

Renée’s accomplishments are too many to list, but can be summed up with the most important accomplishment of all — she has touched thousands and thousands of lives by her work, not just as a musician, but as a human being. It is educators like Renée who help youth, through music and the arts, make the world better. For myself, she taught me that success is excellence, and to reach this, you must pay attention to detail in all that you do, not least of all in human relationships.

I would like to issue a challenge to the head honchos at KPBSD (you know who you are … and so does everyone else). At some point down the road, you will be faced with a decision. You will have to decide between cutting the arts, or not cutting them. Let’s make it that simple. But wait! Before you come up with your reasons, let me tell you something about myself: I left college with two degrees and no debt, and I have a salaried job. Oh, and my degrees are a Bachelor and Master of Music in Vocal Performance. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. With no debt. Why? Because somebody taught me to nurture a gift and get scholarship from my own merit. I own this and take pride in it. But none of this would have happened without Renée and her choir program. There are thousands of artistic scholarships to be had by talented youth. Many of these students (also like myself) would not be competitive for academic scholarships, but they are able to get a degree in any major thanks to an arts scholarship.

We could go on and on about the arts making the world a better place, preventing teen violence, drugs, abuse, depression, not to mention how the arts help brain development (are these enough reasons yet?), and that is all true. But it is true because of what the arts bring out of us, and who can help us with that but a truly great educator? So here is the challenge: I dare you to not cut the arts. I dare you to not cut the music program at KCHS, and to leave the legacy Renée Henderson and her colleagues will leave. It’s not at the forefront now — right now she is being honored and praised, as she should be, after her many years of hard work. But what about three years from now? Five years? I dare you to wait the 43 years that she put into this school district before you even think about cutting the arts at KCHS, or anywhere else for that matter. I dare you to allow students to succeed and see their potential as human beings. I dare you to love your students as much as Renée Henderson does.