Band Camp: Keeping Kids In School And Sending Them To College Begins With Music

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Austin and Worthing HS bands have their acts together
​At two HISD inner-city high schools, band directors impact more than the music. They build self-confidence, implement discipline and develop leaders -- and it starts every summer with band camp.

Despite unhealthy levels of heat, the students come, day after day -- at some programs more consistently than others. Practices last upwards of four hours and some schools meet more than once a day. Band is a voluntary pursuit, like joining a sports team. But for some of the students at Austin and Worthing high schools, band is the single reason they come to school at all.

Both Austin and Worthing have less than sterling academic reputations. They were both listed on an infamous 2007 list that called them "dropout factories." And yet, both schools house top-notch band programs; programs that send students to college with scholarship help.

Neither director has had a long history with his program, but in short periods of time, they've shown results. Renford Joseph moved to Worthing from an area middle school just five years ago, and last year sent all of his seniors to college. Keavon Runnels came to Austin seven years ago, when there was no band program in place, and grew the program to an award-winning one.

Joseph is a disciplinarian for everything having to do with the Worthing marching band; from the cleanliness of the floors to the way boys wear their shorts (if boxers are showing during push-ups, he yanks their shorts above their waist). It's the same way just a few miles away at Austin High, where Keavon Runnels runs the show. In group discussions, he'll talk about leadership characteristics, along with the responsibilities that come with being sexually active.

Austin and Worthing are two band programs with different stories; every band has a different story. But both have to deal with similar obstacles. Both programs are highly understaffed. Both maintain the band, a color guard and dancers. Austin also has drum majors, and Worthing has twirlers. Joseph has just two assistants (auxiliary coordinator Martha Lewis and dance coordinator Candice Franklin) and Runnels has one (Kevin Lee). Neither knows what kind of budget he'll be working with from year to year. Or how many students they'll have.

The work to establish the necessary discipline and music skills begins and blossoms during the summer, at band camp. Austin and Worthing are both coming off successful 2009-2010 campaigns and have different reasons to be excited and concerned heading into the new school year. Read about the challenges and realities of band camp in this week's feature story.

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