Dennis Boyd Jr. has been a choir director for 11 years. Submitted photo

Dennis Boyd Jr., choir director at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and Middle School, member of the Kiwanis International Club and part-time wedding DJ, has had to do a lot of adapting since schools shut down due to COVID-19 in March. His students have also had to adapt. Boyd, in his 11th year of teaching, says this year’s seniors are a resilient bunch.

Name: Dennis Boyd Jr.

Age: 38

Hometown: Berwick

Occupation: Director of choirs for Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and Middle School in South Paris

How have the basic concepts and methods of teaching changed during the pandemic? Do you feel like teachers were equipped to deal with the realities of remote teaching coming into the pandemic? The teachers I have the privilege of working with have all been creative, diligent, and flexible about meeting student needs. No one was ready for the sudden onset of pandemic conditions, but we have all rose to the occasion. The greatest threat to my student’s education is equity of access. In rural Oxford County (and Harrison being in rural Cumberland County), internet access is not available to each household. SAD 17 has done amazing things to make sure each household had access to electronic devices, but the internet is our missing piece in some places.  

What lessons have you learned over the course of this? Have you heard any stories of resiliency from students or co-workers?  I have learned that students need school in their lives. We are all making this work for the students with access, but the energy, the learning, the very culture of my department requires presence in our buildings. I have continued to be impressed with the creative solutions that have been implemented by the staff, students, and families when it comes to education needs.

Choir performance must be a really challenging thing to try and coordinate remotely. How does that work? Are you disheartened by the news that choirs might not be able to sing together for at least two years? I am hopeful that we will be able to perform sooner than two years. With that said, we will find a way to make it all work. Equity of access is necessary to ensure that digital solutions for performance opportunities are possible. Two years of silence would be a terrible thing for our world, but this art form will continue.

You were really involved with community organizations (and still are, I imagine). How has helping serve the community changed during COVID-19? Kiwanis is currently limited as to what we can do for our usual programming. The organization will adapt to meet the needs of our community. The Key Club (the high school student wing of Kiwanis) will be making a $1,000 donation to the Harrison Food Bank as soon as we can arrange it. I think SAD 17’s food service department and hourly employees have gone above and beyond when it comes to feeding the children of Oxford Hills. They were able to implement a plan with 48 hours notice that offered food access to EVERY child aged 2-18. That is one of the single greatest things that have come out of all of this.  

As a wedding DJ, how has that part of your life changed? My wedding, prom, and school dance season has been destroyed. I will have lost over $6,000 worth of bookings, and who knows if the bookings in the fall will continue. With that said, many weddings are pushing off to 2021. If all of this means that one life has been saved, it has in fact been worth it.

What do you think it’s like to be a senior in 2020? Have you had any students who have been directly impacted by COVID? (Maybe they are going into music, missed out on auditioning for college, or even missed out performing?) My seniors have been robbed of their big year. We had a trip scheduled to New  York City, several music festivals that were cancelled, and all of the pomp of graduation celebrations. My heart is sick for this group. This is the group of students that were born under the specter of 9/11. This is not the year they were supposed to have. However, my group of seniors are some of the most resilient, creative, dedicated, and compassionate humans I have had the privilege of working with. They will persevere because it is what we need to do to be successful.

What are you hopeful about? Dreading? I keep hoping that this universal threat will bring our nation together in universal solidarity with one another. Sadly, that unity is fracturing currently. I am dreading selfish behaviors that will put other people at risk.

Do you think the landscape of music education, and education in general, is going to permanently change? Music education has always required creative solutions to meet the needs of our changing schools. We will adapt and find ways to meet our students’ needs while maintaining safety for all. This time does allow for innovation in trying to use technology to augment instruction and to allow students to demonstrate mastery of concepts. With that said, I hope that our ensembles will return to our traditional rehearsal methods quickly, as they have maintained for hundreds of years.

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