CAPE ELIZABETH — Music educators at Cape Elizabeth schools were excited to discover that the district was recognized as one of the “Best Communities for Music Education” for the sixth year in a row.

The school department announced that Cape Elizabeth was one of two Maine districts receiving the award on April 12, thanking the district’s music teachers, Rob Wheeler, Joanne Lee, Emily LeBorgne, Caitlin Ramsey, Rebecca Bean, Chris Marro and Jason St. Pierre.

Rob Wheeler, Cape Elizabeth High School music director. This is Wheeler’s first year in Cape Elizabeth, and he said the community has been welcoming and supportive. Courtesy photo

Wheeler, band director at Cape Elizabeth High School, said the recognition from the National Association of Music Merchants was “well-deserved.” This is his first year teaching in the district.

“I enjoy working with my colleagues who are all terrific and are very supportive and have invited me right into the fold, so to speak,” Wheeler said. “I really enjoy the community engagement and how supportive everyone from the parents to the administration are. The kids themselves are terrific.”

The award reflects well on the district in a time where many school programs have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramsey, Cape Elizabeth Middle School band director, said.

“I think especially during school craziness and COVID, the performing arts has especially been impacted in schools, not only what students can do but what the districts have offered,” Ramsey said. “I think that was a really nice reflection of the community and the administration. Music’s an important thing in our district, so I think this year especially it has been very meaningful.”

A fully remote teacher, Wheeler said each school and staff member has done what works best for them, and the district has been able to accommodate a variety of needs.

“At the high school, one of the things I was able to do was retool the curriculum to be able to engage kids more in a remote setting,” Wheeler said. “That in itself is a positive. When you’re able to have that kind of freedom to work in those constraints that you have to, that’s a big deal.”

Music students have been staying positive through the pandemic, Wheeler and Ramsey said. Although the curriculum has changed due to COVID-19 restrictions, many don’t see this as a negative.

“The kids themselves have been incredibly resilient with it and just troopers,” Wheeler said. “They have really bought into the idea that this is what we’re doing right now and we’re heading back to being able to play as soon as possible, and they’re getting a lot out of it.

“It’s been a real opportunity to explore and do things that we couldn’t normally do in the setting of playing in band all the time. One of the great things about Cape is they recognize that as an opportunity and they’re grateful for it and thankful for it. That is such a huge win in general for the kids because they have that attitude for the most part, which is great.”

Middle school band students have worked hard through the last year without being able to play with all of their bandmates, Ramsey said.

“For the most part they’ve been troopers,” she said. “For our youngest students, our fifth graders, they don’t really have anything to compare it to. I think for the older seventh- and eighth-grade kids, missing that full ensemble piece, that’s been a challenge, too. But they’ve been working their tails off.”

Parents, administrators and the Cape Elizabeth community have always supported the schools, which makes teaching easier, Ramsey said.

“I think our district’s decision to make sure music is something still accessible to students just also speaks to that community support,” she said. “It’s part of students’ education here in Cape Elizabeth and I think that’s what’s shone through the most this year. We’ve been able to provide that for all of our students.”

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