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Students, parents, alumni plead with District to save Southwest Middle School's Steel Drum Band

Award winning band on the chopping block
Southwest middle school steel drum band.png
Posted at 11:21 PM, May 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-25 02:22:47-04

CHULA VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) -- A beloved music program in the South Bay is on the chopping block. But parents, alumni, and the Soutwest Middle School Island Steel Drum Band music director say they are not ready to bid farewell to the program without putting up a fight.

Daniel Ramirez, AKA 'Sir Daniel', showed off his pride and joy to ABC 10News cameras- the van for his music production company, Del Sol records. He said his school mariachi band changed the course of his life.

"I come from a neighborhood where all they do is gang bang and graffiti and gun violence," Ramirez said. "Mariachi gave me the path. A direction."

For the last 22 years, Southwest Middle and High School music director Keith Ballard has held the baton.

"The kids inspire me to want to teach, especially in an underprivileged and poor neighborhood," Ballard said.

When the Sweetwater Union High School District cut the Mariachi program years ago, Ballard and the alumni were devastated. But now on the chopping block is Ballard's nationally acclaimed Island Steel Drum band, a legacy that includes performances in front of two Presidents, two Governors, and even Superbowl 2003.

"The way they cut these programs, they didn't even have the audacity to tell me," Ballard said. "They just sent me a spreadsheet, and when I ask them, they say 'Oh well.'"

Ballard said when he looked at his class schedule for the next school year, he noticed that the Steel Drum program was simply cut out of the budget.

The district sent ABC 10News this statement:

"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."
Sweetwater Union High School District

Monday night, current students, alumni, parents, and Ballard pleaded to school board members to save the program.

"Having steel drum in your life, it's kind of a way to free yourself," a current student said.

"I cannot see music end like this," another girl cried at the podium.

"Music is a universal language that if we are cutting out from education, we are cutting ourselves short of our greatness," Ramirez said.

The group said losing one band was tragic. This time, they are not going to back down.

"I really don't like fighting," Ballard said. "I like teaching and inspiring kids. But darn it, if I have to go to battle, I'm willing to take it on."