FOLEY – A recent rock concert that featured The Velcro Pygmies is one example of how Foley High School students and teachers are working to develop one of Alabama’s first career education programs for music production.

Career technical education, or CTE, programs are available for students considering a variety of fields. That option, however, is not yet available for students planning careers in music production, Micheal Roy, chairman of the Foley High Fine Arts Department, said.

“Alabama doesn’t have a music-focused CTE program,” Roy said. “We’re working to develop standards for the first CTE pathway for music production. It’s something that’s needed and it’s exciting to think that the Alabama education system could be different because of something that we’ve done.”

Roy said he and others working on the project hope to have Foley CTE program ready for Alabama’s 2024-25 academic year.

In April, music students put on a concert featuring the rock group “The Velcro Pygmies.” Students organized, planned and executed every aspect of the concert, Jimmy O’Cain, FHS assistant band director said. The concert was part of the national “Reach and Teach” program designed to educate students through real-life experiences.

“It’s a big thing. Students are there. They help put the stage together. They help hang the speakers and the lighting and run that. Run the sound. Run the lighting. They do podcasts during the show. They actually do videography during the show,” O’Cain said. “The students have to do it all. So, it’s a very real-world experience for the students and it just seemed ideal that we offer this. That allowed these kids to get first-hand what goes on.”

O’Cain said The Velcro Pygmies are one of the groups working with Reach and Teach to help students prepare for music careers.

Other students also took part in the event. Marketing students, under the direction of teacher Ashley Arnold, helped promote the event.

“It was a two-part curriculum that we put together. Basically, my students took care of backstage to where students began to enter and her students took everyone where students began to enter to the front,” O’Cain said. “So, we all talked about marketing.We all about who the performers were going to be. We talked about budgeting. We talked about where we’re going to get things.”

He said hospitality students also took part,preparing food for band members.

“They’ve got to learn to work as a group,” O’Cain said. “Collaboration is a really, really big deal. The collaboration they got between classrooms was really good. They got to actually talk with students that don’t get to do what they do and vice-versa with the marketing students.”

O’Cain and Roy said music education at Foley High School is much more than the traditional image of marching band or chorus. Students work on a wide variety of projects such as the school’s own rock band, “The Noise,” which opened for The Velcro Pygmies.

“This year was the first year that Reach and Teach allowed a full-student band to perform on their stage,” O’Cain said. “Normally, they would just have a single student as a guest artist, but this year, they not only let a full student group on there, because we have this program and this group, they let a student run that part of the show all by herself. They literally relinquished command to a student and let her run the show. That’s a Reach and Teach first.”

In another project, Foley High students are preparing the soundtrack for a movie being produced by another school. On a recent afternoon, students gathered in one corner of a classroom editing cuts of their music, while students in other areas mixed sounds, worked on performances and worked on other projects.

“There’s always things going on,” O’Cain raised his voice over the sound coming from around the room. “There’s always multiple things happening in this room. Which is not ideal, but we’re in a 26-foot room, but you get what you get.”

In classes where so many students are working on different projects, grading is often more about measuring each student’s progress than test scores. 

“We look for progress, not so much did you complete this assignment today,” O’Cain said. “I’m not looking for them to turn in a piece of paper every day. We’re looking for what progress have we made. Where are we in this?”

He said that projects such as the Reach and Teach concert show that students and the program are making that progress.

“It was really a great experience for me and the kids,” O’Cain said.