I write in support of the proposed referendum, which would support the construction of a new performing arts facility along with a substantial number of necessary additions and improvements to the facilities currently in use in the East Troy School District. As one of many examples of recent students who have benefited from the musical and dramatic instruction available in East Troy, I feel compelled to share my story, and while I will focus on the impact the performing arts had on my life, the other parts of this referendum are equally necessary steps our village and district must take to preserve the excellent educational opportunities of today for future generations of East Troy children.

My parents moved to East Troy in part because of its reputation for top-quality education – and they could not have been proven more correct. I lived in East Troy my entire school-age life, from kindergarten at Chester Byrnes Elementary School to graduation fourth in my class from East Troy High School.

While at ETHS, I studied a wide variety of subjects, including three AP classes, and benefited directly from the integration of new technology into the classroom, as well as the stellar instruction of many teachers with whom I still keep in contact. I also participated in every single play and musical put on by ETHS over my four years, as well as four years of choir and band.

Due to the musical instruction I received, I was able to arrange an award-winning piece for a jazz festival, take an independent music theory class, sing incredibly challenging music in and outside of the classroom ­– and more importantly, successfully audition to the music education program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I have no doubt that these opportunities enhanced my academic efforts outside of music and engaged all parts of my brain, allowing me to prepare strong college applications and achieve high standardized test scores, eventually winning a National Merit Scholarship.

At Nebraska, my musical efforts continued, though I changed my degree to vocal performance and added a political science major. My voice lessons and music classes provided strong support to my political science major: while the connection may not seem obvious, it certainly exists. For instance, the ear training I received helped me master Arabic, which I now speak at a proficient level due to a Defense Department scholarship I won to study in Amman, Jordan.

My voice teacher advised my senior honors thesis, on the subject of Qur’anic recitation – integrating Islamic studies and vocal performance into a unique document. My musical efforts, culminating in a senior recital along with a multitude of opera performances, were a key component of my application for the Marshall Scholarship, which currently funds my study in the United Kingdom.

It is no exaggeration to say that my accomplishments have direct links to the education I received at East Troy – and even more direct links to music and the performing arts.

You may read all this and think, “Great! He was able to achieve many things because of our current facilities and teachers.” You may decide to rest on your laurels, knowing I am just one example of many East Troy graduates who have gone on in music. You would, however, be wrong. Already in my time at ETHS from 2004-2008, our facilities were woefully inadequate for the level of student activity in the performing arts. Take a look sometime at the terrible practice rooms in the band and choir rooms, or listen to the loud ventilation system instead of a play in a decrepit lecture hall.

I remember looking on with envy at the stunning facilities of nearby districts during solo-ensemble and other competitions. Realize that what was possible for the students of –literally–yesteryear will not be possible for the students of today, much less tomorrow, without an investment in the infrastructure that makes such achievements possible.

You may not believe me when I say that music helped me think better, or helped me learn in other subjects. The data shows otherwise, but I understand it’s a hard thing to conceptualize. But I implore you to think of the children who, like me, use the arts as outlet to express themselves. Or the children who combine a rigorous academic schedule with music as their only outlet of personal time. Or the future, when construction and borrowing costs will inevitably rise and already necessary repairs will prove even more costly. However you need to rationalize it, you simply must vote for this referendum. The education –in its totality, from STEM to English to the arts ­– of our children is at stake. Please vote yes April 2.


Zachary Smith

East Troy High School 2008

BA, Vocal Performance and Political Science, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

2012 Marshall Scholar





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