Erving Elementary teachers decry potential loss of music and movement program


Staff Writer

Published: 01-18-2023 7:13 PM

ERVING — Amid ongoing contract negotiations, teachers criticized the School Committee’s potential cessation of Erving Elementary School’s “music and movement” program during Tuesday’s meeting, adding another layer of tension between the parties.

Former teacher Emily Samuels prepared a statement that was read aloud during Tuesday’s public comment segment. It communicated that the music and movement program is vital to preparing for an all-school musical that has been “a transforming experience for many.” Read aloud by multiple teachers due to two-minute limits for each speaker’s comments, the speech preceded another written by fifth grade teacher and lead spokesperson Emily DeSorgher, which continued to advocate for fair teacher contracts.

According to Samuels, Erving Elementary School is the only Union 28 school — if not the only school in Franklin County — to offer a music and movement curriculum. Taught weekly in rotating units within the context of physical education, children paired “kinesthetic learning” with music “as a version of educational dance.”

“From time to time, a student (usually a sixth grader) would ask why they had to have M&M,” Samuels wrote. “The explanation given was that ‘P.E.’ means ‘physical education,’ and that the curriculum was designed to address the whole body, not just the sports skills parts. Our unique program included critical thinking, creative problem solving, integration of concepts and a foundation for kinesthetic learning.”

“It is, as people in neurology are understanding, part of the brain development of children to have a multifaceted experience in their lives,” commented Kathleen Bridgewater, who taught at Erving Elementary for around three decades beginning in 1984. “A musical one, an artistic one, a movement one — all of those experiences help children, especially the very youngest children, maintain the brains they were born with.”

Erving Elementary would also organize a play that “is both a culmination and celebration of the M&M curriculum,” Samuels explained.

“Every year, we had a play,” Bridgewater said of her tenure. “It involved classroom teachers, it involved all of the students. … It was stupendous.”

“While it is possible to have M&M without the play, without M&M, the play that includes every child in the school could not happen,” Samuels wrote. “The movement in the play provides opportunity for a developmentally appropriate role for each child. … Performing is hard, but the curriculum builds, step by step, a foundation that is invaluable, developing confidence through achievement in areas that may be difficult.”

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“There were always children who wanted to have lesser parts and children who wanted to have greater parts, but everybody had a line in the play,” Bridgewater added.

In addition to her statement expressing fear that Erving Elementary may lose music and movement instruction, Samuels also communicated her “understanding that recent P.E. teachers were excused from teaching the M&M curriculum.”

School Committee Chair Jennifer Eichorn declined to comment on the current and future status of the music and movement program when reached by the Greenfield Recorder on Wednesday. The School Committee did not take any votes regarding the program during Tuesday’s meeting.

Contract negotiations

DeSorgher’s subsequent speech headed the third time this school year that teachers confronted the School Committee regarding their lack of contracts. They last advocated for better compensation at a School Committee meeting on Nov. 15. This advocacy was initiated after staff and the School Committee “could not quite come together on an agreement for different points from both sides” after negotiations extended from January through May, lead negotiator and sixth grade teacher Mark Burnett explained previously.

The current impasse, Burnett summarized, relates primarily to the lack of a wage increase at or above 2%, falling below the standard for town employees and the reasonable expectation to offset an increasing cost of living.

“We are rapidly losing confidence in the School Committee’s chairwoman to morally and satisfactorily uphold her commitment to maintain mutual confidence and respect when working together to improve the quality of education for our students,” DeSorgher read to the committee on Tuesday, backed by around 30 of her peers. “We would like to show a vote of confidence for those who take this situation seriously and act on behalf of students’ needs rather than a personal grudge, which we fear has unfortunately and inexplicably become the drive behind this School Committee’s leader.”

Eichorn declined to respond to DeSorgher’s speech or comment on the status of contract negotiations.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or