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NMSU alum fights to keep fine arts afloat

As the sun begins to rise, NMSU alumnus Daniel Lozano, the band director at Santa Teresa High School in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, heads out to the school for his 6 a.m. morning band rehearsal. The band students gather their instruments and the flag girls grab their flags before trudging out to the field to prepare their fall show for competition.

Daniel Lozano, left, gives Santa Teresa High School marching band students critiques on their musicality and tempo during an early morning band rehearsal at the school. (Photo by Amanda Granados/Kokopelli)

Since he arrived at the school in 2014, Lozano has been trying to achieve Division One status, the highest rank a band can attain. Although he works hard on building the band’s status, Lozano has many other things on his plate.

“I remember when I was planning to sign my contract, I was told that with becoming the band director, I would also need to teach choir. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal since I had been in choir for a while,” Lozano said.

The choir program at the time was dissolved, so getting the students to even sing at first was a challenge. Eventually, the members became more dedicated and Lozano was able to create a safe and welcoming place for students like Michaela Esparza, currently a junior at Santa Teresa High School.

“I was disappointed when choir was dropped because the kids were finally making progress and enjoying themselves.”

“There were 12 to 13 girls in that class who were some of the best people. I loved my choir class as it was filled with passionate, hardworking and talented singers. Choir gave me a place to call mine where I could sing without any judgment,” Esparza said.

Earlier this year, Governor Martinez vetoed $350 million in state higher education funding, and as a result the fine arts department at Santa Teresa High School took a big hit. A surge of students signed up for drama class and only about 15 signed up for choir, so the choir program was cut from the fine arts curriculum.

“I remember being called into a faculty meeting,” Lozano said. “Administration talked to us about how the deficit would affect everything and I was disappointed when choir was dropped because the kids were finally making progress and enjoying themselves.”

Mr. Lozano, right, addresses a group of his drama students at Santa Teresa High School. (Photo by Amanda Granados/Kokopelli)

Michaela Esparza said she was extremely upset when choir got cut. She pointed out that students are pushed by their parents to pursue activities they love, but wondered how students can do what they love if programs are being cut. She said choir is always overlooked and lacks the recognition that she believes it is due.

Once the choir program was cut, one less thing sat on Daniel Lozano’s plate, or so he thought. Lozano was then asked to teach drama.

“I thought these people were crazy,” Lozano said. “I had no experience in drama and I’d be doing a disservice to the children who actually wanted to learn.”

Discovering that nothing was going to change administrators’ minds, he was given the job. Lozano now tries to have the students participate in short plays.

“Mr. Lozano tries his best, but his main focus will always be band, which takes away from the full experience of being in drama,” said sophomore Victoria Tavarez.

Tavarez also plays percussion in the marching band, and has seen the level of dedication Lozano puts into the band. For Tavarez, the full experience of being in drama came with having after school rehearsals to prepare for productions and learning about lights and costumes and acting, but now she said students are learning from textbooks that give vague definitions of theater terms.

Daniel Lozano appears behind his office desk in between classes at Santa Teresa High School in Santa Teresa, New Mexico. (Photo by Amanda Granados/Kokopelli)

Regardless of his duties, Lozano tries his best. “I feel like sometimes I save these kids’ lives,” he said. “Most of them are going through a lot at home and I’ve helped create a safe environment and a home where they can forget about everything.”

Lozano, Esparza and Tavarez all hope New Mexico’s governor and school administrators will recognize that fine arts play a big part in students’ lives.

“All I ask is that the administration hires a drama teacher who’s actually passionate about drama,” Lozano said. Lozano also indicated he hopes the administration will bring back the choir, and that administrators will work to ensure the same fine arts programs are offered at both the middle school and high school levels.

For now, dedicated teachers like Lozano will continue doing double duty to keep fine art programs afloat until the state’s budget problems are resolved. If not for Lozano’s efforts and those of his colleagues across the state, kids like Michaela Esparza and Victoria Tavarez would have even fewer opportunities to pursue activities they love.

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