Hart School District | Beloved Choir Teacher Mary Purdy to Sing Final Note at Canyon
There is a classroom at the west end of Canyon High School that has, for the past 26 years, offered a sanctuary for students and a sense of home for one choir teacher.
Canyon High School has been Mary Purdy’s home away from home since 1990, with thousands of students passing through her classroom over the past 26 years. She has brought the magic and beauty of music to students of the William S. Hart Union High School District since 1981 and is now looking at the last year of her teaching career.
“I hope that every one of my students has been able to leave thinking they were loved and cared for – that they had a family here,” Purdy said.
Students gather in room A-1 during breaks and lunch periods, and even though it is fitted with a grand piano and grandstand seating, it feels less like a classroom and more like a home base.
“I swear to you, the first day I was in choir, I just felt like I was at home,” said Joshua Valdes, a senior at Canyon. “Ever since then, I appreciate everything she does for us.”
Purdy makes her departure just as arts programs in public schools are on the rise, nearly 40 years after Proposition 13 capped local property tax revenues. The resulting shortfalls eliminated many arts programs across the state.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 brought visual and performing arts back to the core of federal elementary and secondary education standards.
“Studies have shown that kids who are involved in music test better. They have more abilities to think abstractly and use both sides of their brain,” said Purdy. “It’s in places like choir and band and theatre where that right side of the brain, the creative part of society, is being molded. If we don’t have that in schools, we are losing creativity.”
According to a study from the California Alliance for Arts and Education, there are only 8,305 full-time, credentialed arts teachers statewide.
Purdy hopes that after she retires can continue helping students learn music.
“It’s one of my goals for retirement. I’m hoping to volunteer at one of the elementary schools that feeds Canyon and teach three days a week so the kids will get it in elementary (school),” she said.
Purdy didn’t start out in the Hart District; her music career actually began at a junior high school in East Los Angeles in 1977.
“I was fresh out of college, and I remember driving and seeing the bars on windows and the graffiti. And I was thinking, Lord, what am I doing here? Am I going to live through this year? Am I going to be stabbed? And I had the most wonderful experience of my life,” she said.
Since that first day, Purdy has been teaching junior and senior high school students that the art of music means more than just playing a tune or reading the music. After a few years in East Los Angeles she was offered a job at Sierra Vista Junior High in 1981.
“I went through culture shock, coming back to my own culture,” she said.
She assimilated into Santa Clarita’s culture and obtained her master’s degree in choral conducting and moved up to teaching high school students in 1990.
“I get to come and have fun every day with kids. I get to see those light bulbs go off and get to see the kids when they go, ‘Yes, I got something really hard.’ I just love that,” she said.
Looking toward retirement at the end of the 2016-2017 school year, Purdy hopes to have made a lasting impression on her students and to have inspired them to continue making music.
“I think, more than anything, I’ve always wanted my students to have a broad spectrum of musical knowledge,” she said. “I wanted them to go out feeling like they have experienced music.”(c) 2016 SCVTV