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Pasco schools add orchestra to student choice options

District officials said interest is strong in the small but growing program.
In this image from a YouTube video, the Wiregrass Ranch High School Band performs in May. Wiregrass Ranch and John Long Middle School make up one of four new pathways that students interested in orchestra can apply to through Pasco County's choice process.
In this image from a YouTube video, the Wiregrass Ranch High School Band performs in May. Wiregrass Ranch and John Long Middle School make up one of four new pathways that students interested in orchestra can apply to through Pasco County's choice process. [ Pasco County Schools ]
Published Oct. 11

Sophia Giri has a passion for orchestra that has grown exponentially since she picked up her first bow and set of strings in sixth grade.

“The violin really spoke to her,” said Dawn Slagter, the high school freshman’s mom.

Sophia Giri [Courtesy of Dawn Slagter]
Sophia Giri [Courtesy of Dawn Slagter]

But when the family tried to get Sophia into a Pasco County high school that offers chamber orchestra — the highest level one can achieve in the system — they ran into barriers. Orchestra wasn’t part of the district’s choice plan, and Slagter said officials “didn’t want to hear” the pleadings.

That all changes for the coming school year. Bending to a growing number of requests, the district has added orchestra feeder patterns to its middle and high school pathways. Parents can get details on this and other options during virtual expos planned for west Pasco schools on Nov. 15 and east Pasco schools on Nov. 18.

“We have not listed orchestra in the past as a school choice option. But we’ve always had questions about ‘How can I continue my path?’” said Samantha Del Valle, deputy director of Leading and Learning for the district. “We realized there was a need. We have the program. Why not list it?”

The plan calls for opening four orchestra zones to start, with expectations that a fifth will be established in the future. They are Seven Springs Middle/Mitchell High, River Ridge Middle and High, Cypress Middle and High, and John Long Middle/Wiregrass Ranch High.

Even if the schools are over capacity generally, Del Valle said, the district expects to have seats open for the orchestra as it works to expand the program, which currently enrolls 424 students across all schools.

She encouraged families to apply during the open enrollment window, which will run Jan. 6-20. That way, schools will be able to request the proper number of teachers.

Tom Viking, who oversees performing arts for the district, said he expected strong interest, particularly from students zoned to schools that offer band and chorus but not orchestra.

“It’s a particular kind of kid that seems to be attracted to orchestra,” Viking said.

They often purchase their own instruments, take outside lessons and congregate together with others like themselves.

“Their parents are very involved in their education,” he added. “It’s a very passionate group of people that really want opportunities. We’re trying to respond to that.”

Slagter said her daughter Sophia enrolled in virtual classes this year, partly because of pandemic health concerns and partly because she could not get school choice for orchestra. Sophia continues to take private lessons, but lately she has lost her motivation, her mom said.

“I asked her. She said, ‘I miss being part of the orchestra. It’s not the same playing by yourself all the time,’” Slagter explained.

She held out hope that the district’s new plan will revitalize her daughter.

“If it does pan out,” she said, “that’s the most exciting news I’ve heard in a long time.”

Those who want to register for the district’s school choice expos can visit pascoschools.org/expo.

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