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Southwest Middle School teacher concerned steel drum band is on its last note

Posted at 11:50 AM, May 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-24 20:22:55-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — For more than 20 years, music has filled the campuses of both Southwest Middle and High schools — all started by music teacher Keith Ballard who says this program is on the Sweetwater Union High School District’s chopping block.

"They cut it like it was a disposable diaper," Ballard said.

Monday, he gathered students and their parents together for what could be the final performance for the Island Steel Drum Band, after Ballard was notified the program would not be returning next year because of budget cuts and lack of interest.

"Many of them are poor and they come from disadvantaged families, single parents, and most of them have never been involved in music in elementary school," Ballard, who is the director of the Island Steel Drum Band, said.

In a statement to ABC 10News, Sweetwater School District said the band is not being eliminated, but it is being scaled back in size due to "declining student interest over the past few years.

"The Sweetwater District prides itself in providing students district-wide access to a comprehensive arts education program. The Steel Drum Band is an integral part of Southwest Middle School, and is not being eliminated, however, due to declining student interest over the past few years, the program will scale back in size at this time. We encourage more students to participate and grow the program," the district's statement said.

Among the families affected the Gonzalez family. Dad, Elbert, was a member of the Mariachi Band when he was in school.

"Going to middle school, it’s tough learning new kids. You don’t have many friends because you’re coming to new schools. Mariachi unified a lot of us. And I still talk to those that I played with in 7th grade," Gonzalez said.

Now, years later his son, Evan, is in the band too.

"It really sucks, I really liked this program and I think they should keep it," Evans added.

Ballard says even though he already has plans to retire next year, he’s fighting to keep the program alive for future generations. Parents will join him in addressing the school board Monday evening hoping to keep this program around.