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South Portland school district awarded 'Outstanding Music Program' from Maine musician Dale Huff

The award honors a "thriving K-12 music and performing arts program in the state of Maine."

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — South Portland Schools were recognized as the state's "Outstanding Music Program" by the Dale F. Huff Foundation.

The award honors a "thriving K-12 music and performing arts program in the state of Maine." Huff was a professional trumpet player from Guilford, Maine, who later earned his bachelor's degree from the New England Conservatory in Bangor. He later taught music in Fort Fairfield, and Millinocket.

"His system-wide, K-12 approach to music and performance education was the foundation of what became one of the strongest and most envied school music programs in the State of Maine. In the last decade of his work in Millinocket, he convinced the administration that the music department deserved to be valued at the same level as the other academic departments in the system (English, Math, Athletics, etc.)," wrote Scotty Huff, Dale's son.

South Portland received the award for 2022.

"The results are apparent. South Portland is a shining example of what dad believed in," Scotty wrote to district staff in a congratulatory e-mail.

"Teaching is the longest deferred investment you're ever going to make," said Mahoney Middle School music teacher Sandra Barry. "We lay the groundwork here, but the thing is music can be entered at any point, and it should be."

Under Barry, students in each grade have picked up new instruments this school year; for some, they are learning their second instrument.

"When I go to band, it's a time when I can relax and really focus on something that I love. I love school, but band is one of the more exciting parts of my day," said Julia Tompkins, a Mahoney eighth grader who plays clarinet and tenor saxophone.

Tompkins, and classmate Audrey LeBleu, said music class requires them to work cooperatively with others, both verbally and non-verbally. It also teaches mental toughness and perseverance.

"You practice for a long time with a bunch of people and you all have to perform well for it to sound really good, and when you have a really good performance it feels like you're proud of everybody and yourself," LeBleu said. "It feels like all the times you messed up don't really exist."

Barry said those different skills are why music is a critical part of a child's education, echoing Huff's beliefs.

"We're not asking for music to be 'more than,' but 'as,' and that takes people some time to be okay with," Barry said.

Barry has been working in music education for 35 years: 10 at Brunswick Junior High and 25 in South Portland. She, and her fellow music teachers, have noticed music no longer being a staple of Maine school educations.

"We're humans. We create. We need to communicate with each other, and that's the arts right there: communicating and creating together," Barry said.

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