Marching through the pandemic, Lubbock students return to band camp
On the fourth day of summer band practice at Lubbock High School, students in shorts and t-shirts take measured steps in a parking lot next to the school, under an unforgiving noontime sun.
Band Director Melanie Settle walks through the rows of students - spaced six feet apart - and gives directions through a headset microphone. And a face mask.
Everyone wears a mask - it’s required by the Lubbock Independent School District. Brass and woodwind players pulled their masks below their chins when it’s time to play.
Junior Tristan Wright isn’t rehearsing today. The saxophone player started got involved in band when he was in middle school. This year, he’s a bandleader who mentors the younger members.
There 130 kids at Lubbock High’s band camp this year, a lot of them incoming freshmen. Settle said that’s down from around 190 in a normal year.
“I just want to help be able to give people that one constant,” Wright said. “That one constant being band and having this community of people.”
Wright said he’ll take academic classes online in the fall, but attend marching band in-person. Lubbock ISD is the only public school district in the city allowing students to do virtual classes but participate in certain face-to-face activities.
“Between the online and in-person, it’s going to look a bit different than, you know, everybody’s in the band hall playing their instruments,” Wright said.
After a surge of COVID-19 cases in June, Lubbock has averaged a steady 90 new cases a day since July 1. State guidelines allowed for summer marching band practices to start in August. Not every Texas district returned - but Lubbock ISD chose to.
LISD Fine Arts Director, Andrew Babcock, said based on research he’s seen, marching band isn’t much riskier than sitting in a math class. The district is following state guidelines - and they’ve come up with their own precautions. Practice is mostly outside and in smaller-than-usual groups.
“We’re doing mandated temperature checks on every student as they get out of their vehicle,” Babcock said, giving another example of safety measures. “So, before they can even get on the practice lot, we’re doing all of the pre-symptom checks on every student.”
Settle said when the state gave the green light for school districts to have summer band practice, her students were excited.
“They’re just ready to be back and be with their friends and get back into their routines – and feel normal again,” the band director said.
She said the students are taking the safety measures seriously so they can continue with the season, which will include the usual half-time performances at football games and band competitions.
“To have everybody back in the same space and remember that we’re all on the same journey,” Settle said, “we’re all doing the same thing. Man, that culture is… it’s priceless in person.”
Wright said band makes school worthwhile for him. After graduation, he said he may pursue music education.
“I’ve always just had, you know, a drive to be here for band,” the 16-year-old said. “The core classes? Hmm. I’ll go to those. But It’s really band that keeps me interested and invested in school. It’s what gets me up and that’s something that’s just staying with me.”
Wright isn’t the only student who feels that way about his extracurricular passion. Babcock said the majority of LISD kids participate in the arts, and the social and emotional effects of participating in-person balance the risks of gathering together during the pandemic.
“This little window into a piece of normal that’s done differently, but still somewhat normal, is filling a void that’s really hard to quantify,” Babcock said.
About a week after band camp started, at the beginning of this month, the school district confirmed one person with the Lubbock High band tested positive for COVID-19. District Superintendent Kathy Rollo and Principal Doug Young sent a statement to parents saying the risk exposure was low. The message from school leaders states practice continues.