BARKER – A dedicated, enthusiastic group of supporters called the Barker Music Parent Club has helped music education thrive in this tiny, rural school district, providing everything from uniforms to scholarships.
The group will hold its annual Pancake Breakfast from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. March 6 in Barker Fire Hall, 1660 Quaker Road. It is the largest fundraiser of the year.
The nonprofit group relies on such events to finance all of the “extras” for the students in fourth through 12th grades who participate in choir and band performances, said Deborah Sweeney, founding vice president of the group in 2007, who still serves in that capacity today.
“We have raised $24,000 just from the breakfasts in the past eight years,” she said. “Isn’t that awesome?”
“We have outfitted most of the music department, because the girls wear a white blouse, black skirt and maroon cummerbund and the boys wear a white shirt, black pants and maroon cummerbund and bow tie for concerts and competitions,” she said.
Roger Klatt, superintendent of this school district of just 762 students, said the club has made “a significant contribution to the development of our music and band programs.”
He remarked that with the purchase of the uniforms for performances, for example, “it makes it look like it’s a team up there on the stage.”
“We are very honored to have such a committed group supporting our schools,” he added.
Sweeney said, “We’re big on scholarships, too. Before we had the Music Parent Club, we had a big supporter in our community, a local businessman, who would give $50 to each senior who was in a performing group for four consecutive years. We do this now for the students, as long as they are in a group that is graded.
“We give other scholarships, too, for seniors going into music education in college, as well as other scholarships to students going into any major in college, if they were involved all four years in the music program,” she added. “These are some of the same kids you’ll see working our breakfast and other fundraisers.”
Sweeney pointed out that many of the students elect or are chosen to compete in area competitions and the club helps offset some of these costs, as well, from competitions at places like theme parks at Darien Lake and Cedar Point.
“There are kids here who could never afford this trip and we are able to give the teachers a little money to help offset the costs,” she said.
“We also help pay for clinicians to come in to the schools and sit down with the kids and work with them,” she added. “We also buy music letters, like the athletic letters kids get for sports to put on their varsity jackets, as well as the chevrons.”
Sweeney noted that the club has been successful because of its support from the school administration and from the community.
She said Martin Padilla of Somerset Sails is an example of a “huge supporter” in the community. He additionally created a club banner to display at all events and a 10-foot banner advertising the pancake breakfast. He is also a member of the Barker Lions Club, and he will even help wash dishes at the breakfast, she said.
Barker High School Principal Bradley Pritchard concurred, adding, “The support goes well beyond the walls of our schools. At the pancake breakfast, for instance, there will be a line from the time it opens until it closes. That’s a testament to the community’s and parents’ support in raising money to enhance this program for the children.”
Sweeney’s own two sons, Matthew and Christopher, were both involved in the music department while students at Barker. She teaches family and consumer science at Wilson Junior-Senior High School, but has long been active with Barker schools as a parent volunteer.
Sweeney said she believes music education is important for a well-rounded education because it helps provide “discipline, responsibility, an appreciation of the arts, time management and camaraderie.”
“Look at singing, for instance,” she said. “My classroom in Wilson is right next to a music classroom and the kids will come out of class having fun and singing – how cool is that? Singing is a lifelong skill.”
She said Barker and Wilson have been chosen as the only two Niagara County finalists (narrowed to 10 from 30) in the Kenny Awards competition presented by Shea’s Performing Arts Center and the Lipke Foundation.
The annual contest recognizes the top high school musical productions in Western New York and the winner will be announced May 14. Wilson performed “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in the fall and Barker will present “Oklahoma” March 11-13.
In addition, Barker will present the Choir Spectrum, featuring students from fifth through 12th grades, at 6:30 p.m. March 3 in the auditorium, and will feature the Band Spectrum, with students from fourth through 12th grades, at 7 p.m., March 17 in the gym.
The Music Parent Club also uses these venues to continue fundraising efforts by simultaneously holding basket raffles.
Nancy Pestinger serves as current board president. Maria Cantella is secretary and Jamie Weller is treasurer.
“We’re a small group, but we know how to get out there and fund-raise,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney said the Music Parent Club began at the behest of now-retired music teacher Sandy Hamann, who discussed the idea of the creation of a support group with other music teachers.
“At the beginning, we had no money, but we held a basket raffle and were very successful,” she recalled. “We had two ideas – market our music program, because we have a wonderful program and it’s awesome, and provide scholarships.”
In January of 2008, Margot Bittner, of the Barker Lions Club, approached Sweeney about the possibility of hosting a pancake breakfast in the fire hall, and the event continues to serve as the club’s largest fundraiser. Sweeney said the Lions, under the direction of James and Kevin Bittner, order, cook and serve the food in support of the club that day.
“And a number of our music groups come in and perform during the breakfast, including some of the students in the musical,” she said.
“And each music student’s family brings a basket to be auctioned,” she added.
The all-you-can eat breakfast on March 6 features scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausage, home fries, toast, jelly and beverages. A basket auction also will be held, with the drawing starting at noon.
Tickets are $6 for adults, $4 for children younger than 12 and $20 for a family with two adults and as many as four children younger than 2. Tickets are available at the door or may be purchased pre-sale from Barker music department teachers or any Barker High School music student, or Sweeney, at 531-2386.
The club also has held a citrus sale in the fall and will hold a plant and herb sale in the spring.