Last Chance for Refund Requests

Dear MMS Instrumental Music families,

The last day to submit a request for a refund of the cost of one of the planned spring trips is June 30th. Please be sure to read through the terms and conditions of the refund request before filling out the online request form. Please see the post below for terms, conditions, and the link to the request form. Please be advised that employee access to campus is sporadic and extremely limited, and it may take several weeks until we are able to process your refund check.

If you do not request a refund by the June 30th deadline, we will assume that you are allowing the MMS Instrumental Music program to keep your donation as an in-kind gift with gratitude from myself and the MMS administration. As always, if you have any questions or issues, please feel free to contact me at

Best wishes,
Mr. Brown

End of ‘19-‘20 School Year

Hi everyone,

Please forgive me for the amount of time it has taken me to write this message. It’s been just over two weeks since the school year ended, and it is long overdue. In general, I have three things to say about this past spring and the COVID-19 school closure: (1) I tried my best to provide as enriching a distance learning curriculum as possible for band/orchestra students given the circumstances, (2) many students rose to the challenge and put forth some terrific work, and (3) despite my pride and confidence in my efforts as well as those of many band/orchestra students, it was overall a negative experience, and in certain ways traumatic, with very few positives in the mix.

For the 8th graders, depending on who you are and your depth of emotions, I feel that the loss of your special experiences like hosting our festival, going on our spring trip, and performing our pops concert with all of its traditions could range from something as small as a major bummer to as large as a total heartbreak. Not being able to see and interact with all of you, as well as make live music with you on a daily basis, was profoundly detrimental to my mental health as well. I missed out on presenting your class with awards and honoring your three years’ worth of work, growth, and accomplishments in the MMS Instrumental Music program, and you all missed out on being the recipients of the accolades which you are due. As a person that struggles with leaving tasks unfinished, it will take some time to learn how to close this chapter in my heart and mind. As you all know, I am deeply passionate about music education, and to not be able to put the finishing touches on your middle school music careers the way it should’ve been done fills me with sadness, and please know that I am grieving along with you for the loss of the final third of your 8th grade school year.

As it pertains to the health of the MMS Instrumental Music program over the next few years, the next part of my message is most important for those of you who just finished 6th or 7th grade, however, it’s also worth noting for those of you moving on to high school. While we’re still in the midst of this excruciating experience caused by COVID-19, it is more important than ever for us to have perspective and think about what this period of time will and should be as a phase in our lives. At some point, we will have a vaccine for this virus, and life will resume as normal. What I would hate to see happen is for the time and experience lost during the coronavirus period to define us and our world for years to come. It will be easy in the next few years to lean on COVID-19 as an excuse for being behind or underdeveloped in your education. In some ways, this will be understandable and appropriate, especially in the first 6-12 months following the proliferation of a vaccine. But if we let this continue as a crutch for us to explain away shortcomings or enable laziness for several years, the coronavirus will have defeated us in some way.

It is my sincere hope that this experience will help Americans appreciate our general way of life a lot more after we find a cure and things return to normal. Sure, school and work can be a drag at times, but we’re quite lucky and blessed to be able to receive a free public education and choose our line of work. Especially for kids, it’s good to know the value of being able to interact with teachers in person as well as socialize with friends and peers. Connecting with others is a crucial part of education and our maturation as human beings that isn’t necessarily taught in classes but is facilitated in the American public school setting. Also, while technology is obviously essential to our modern lives, and it’s what made some form of learning possible during the school closure, it’s also important to note that something is still missing from human-to-human communication if you can’t be there in the same room or space as the other person(s). My parents always taught me that relationships were the most important thing to take care of in life, and I hope that because of what we’re experiencing with COVID-19 and other current events taking place in our country right now, we become a more compassionate and supportive society after experiencing these difficult times together.

In closing, I think we can all agree that the sooner things return to normal, the better. However, until that becomes a reality, I want to encourage students to do the best with what you have rather than complain or worry about what you don’t have. Other than follow health protocols and recommendations, there’s very little that we can do in our current situation to make things better. Since we closed school on March 13th, I’ve gotten better at setting aside my worries and anxieties about certain things until I know more about them. For example, what I’d like to be doing right now is preparing for whatever next school year is going to look like, as well as planning for the upcoming marching band season. However, I’m not stressing about it until we’ve been given a clear framework for the 2020 – 2021 school year. Until you can plan or act on certain things, save yourself the stress, unease, and feelings of helplessness by simply being patient and waiting for those decisions to be made and presented to you. In the meantime, take care of yourself and pursue your interests. I have personally been working on maintaining a healthy sleep routine and improving my piano skills, and I’m proud of the strides I’ve made in those areas. Now is the perfect time to invest in yourself and do the things that keep you physically healthy and emotionally fulfilled.

I’m not checking emails everyday, but I am checking them, so if you want to drop me a line and say hello, I’d love to hear from you! I’ll also set up some check-ins on Zoom during the summer, so keep updated on those here on the blog. I wish you all as restful, fun, and safe a summer as possible!

Best wishes,
Mr. Brown

Update 6/8/20: Your patience is appreciated

Hi everyone,

Shortly after I started to enter grades today, I got a flood of emails and Google Classroom comments wondering why someone’s grade might be lower than it used to be. As I am entering grades in these final days of the school year, your overall grade may fluctuate drastically. While I appreciate the concern, the following are indicators that what you’re seeing at that moment is NOT your final grade:

  • There are blank spaces for other assignments that have yet to be entered
    • Students: By definition, your grade cannot be final if I haven’t entered something into every assignment
    • If you didn’t do the assignment, and you don’t see a 0 entered, I haven’t entered grades for the assignment
  • Your grade is lower than it was on March 13th
    • I will, of course, be following district policy in not allowing semester grades to dip below where they stood on March 13th
    • Locked-in “A” students will not be seeing a fully accurate record of their distance learning efforts because it makes my job a TON easier to not have to transfer all of those individual scores into PowerSchool for a grade that can’t change either up or down per district policy
    • “B”-or-lower students will be getting a fully accurate accounting of their distance learning efforts so that parents and students…
      • …see how the grade was successfully raised
      • …see why the student was unsuccessful in raising their grade from where it stood on March 13th
  • It is not yet 8:00 AM on Wednesday, June 10th
    • This is our deadline for finalized grades, and if that deadline hasn’t passed, your grade isn’t final

Long story short: If you see something that triggers concern, please be patient and wait until none of the above indicators exist for you.

My last thing that I want to get out to everybody: Please refrain from asking for exceptions. When parents or students do this, the teacher is suddenly and undeservedly pushed into a lose-lose situation. If the teacher does not make an exception for you, and they uphold their word, their syllabus, and/or the fair policies to which everyone is held, they are the bad guy to you and your family. If the teacher does make an exception for you, they are then going back against their word, syllabus, and policies for the rest of the class, and as soon as word gets around, they are the bad guy to the rest of the class and their families. Asking for exceptions from your teachers without evidence of reasonable extenuating circumstances puts us in an ethical and moral bind in which we cannot come out a winner.

The school closure happened suddenly and before we were able to plan and prepare everyone involved with the school district for distance learning. This has been tough for all of us, which is why the district grade protection policy exists. I will certainly follow the district policy, and no one’s grade will be lower than it was on March 13th when grades are finalized. But in the meantime, I can’t hide the work-in-progress that are your grades while they fluctuate and then reveal them to you when they’re complete. I also cannot and will not work 24/7 until your grades are done. They will be done before the June 10th at 8:00 AM deadline, and until then, nothing is final. Especially students, please exercise patience as you see your grade possibly changing quite a bit over the next 36 hours.


Mr. Brown

Update 6/7/20: Final “week” of school

FINAL “WEEK”: This Tuesday, June 9th marks the last day of of the school year. Hooray, summer! While things are starting to reopen, I want to send all of you my best wishes for as fun a summer as possible! Please remember, though, that COVID-19 is still a very real and present concern, so I urge everyone to get out there cautiously and follow all recommended health and safety protocols.

ASSIGNMENTS?: There will be no assignments posted or due Monday or Tuesday, June 8th and 9th, in your band/orchestra class. I’m swamped enough as it is, and it would be silly of me to add more to your and my respective plates these next two days. Please use the time to catch up with any of your other classes.

GRADES: Other than a meeting on Monday morning, the next two days are completely dedicated to entering grades. Please be patient as I enter them as quickly as I can. The next two items here in this blog post/email are sub-points on grades…

  • LATE SUBMISSIONS: If you have a locked in “A” grade for this semester, please do yourself and me a favor: don’t submit any work that isn’t already submitted for band/orchestra at this point. For those of you who are trying to raise your grade, I will do my best to keep track of your late submissions, but all of the information and scores are so spread out amongst various platforms that it has been very hard to track. I’m going to try my best to count all of your work (even stuff you submit June 8th and 9th), but grading right now is so difficult and time-consuming that I may miss something. Please understand that time is limited, I’m trying my best, and I truly want all students trying to raise their grade to succeed in that pursuit. Please also keep in mind that your late submission that wasn’t there when I already collected information on that particular assignment for the rest of the class is hard to find, and I don’t know whether or not to go back and look for it.
  • LOCKED-IN “A” STUDENTS: You’re going to start to see grades being entered into PowerSchool on Monday morning through the time that grades are due for us at 8:00 AM on June 10th. You’re going to see full credit scores on assignments on which you may not have actually earned full credit, and maybe even for some assignments you didn’t even attempt or complete. Without going into a full tutorial to explain it all, please just trust me when I say it’s just way easier to give all locked-in “A” students full credit on pretty much everything in regards to PowerSchool. Everyone pay attention here, but especially intermediate students: Your true level of participation and actual scores for all assignments are being tracked and recorded outside of PowerSchool. Intermediate students, lack of participation will put any promotions to advanced classes in jeopardy unless extenuating circumstances prevented you from participating in distance learning for band/orchestra.

Refunds for Cancelled 2020 Spring Trips

Dear parents of MMS Instrumental Music students,

As we all know, the COVID-19 school closure led to the cancellation of pretty much all of our most important performances and events of the school year. Most disappointing for students was, unfortunately, the cancellation of our spring trips to Knott’s Berry Farm (intermediate classes) and Disneyland (advanced classes). Because of the cancellations, parents who donated to the MMS Instrumental Music program to help fund these trips are entitled to a refund of the per-student cost of their student’s planned trip.

Our finance clerk and I have received permission to start issuing refund checks as of June 10th. Depending on the number of refund requests, it may take us longer to process refunds, so please be patient with us as we can only be on campus intermittently. Please read the following terms for receiving a refund carefully:

Intermediate parents: The planned per-student cost of the trip was $100. If you donated at least $100, you are eligible for a refund of up to $100.

Advanced parents: The planned per-student cost of the trip was $150. If you donated at least $150, you are eligible for a refund of up to $150.

All parents:

  • If you donated less than the planned per-student cost of your student’s class trip, you are eligible for a refund up to the amount which you donated.
  • You have the option to receive a partial refund and remit the rest of your donation as an in-kind gift to the MMS Instrumental Music program.
  • If you’d like the MMS Instrumental Music program to keep the entirety of your donation as an in-kind gift, you may simply refrain from completing a refund request via the web form below with the immense gratitude from myself and the MMS administration! Your financial support means the world to us and our young musicians!
    • If we do not receive your refund request via the web form below by 11:59 PM on June 30, 2020, we will assume that the MMS Instrumental Music program may keep the entirety of your donation as an in-kind gift.
  • Refunds may only be returned to you in the form of a paper check sent via US mail.
    • No cash, electronic, or online refunds can be made at this time.
  • Parents of multiple students in the MMS Instrumental Music program must fill out one refund request form per student.
  • If you submit a refund request, you are agreeing to the terms stated above in this blog post.

Please fill out this web form to request a refund for your student’s cancelled class trip.

If you have any questions about these refunds, please email Mr. Brown. Again, if you choose to remit all or part of your donation to the MMS Instrumental Music program, please accept my many thanks for your financial support!

Best wishes,

Cameron Brown
Director of Instrumental Music
Thurgood Marshall Middle School

June 1 – 5 is Final Week of Band/Orch for ’19-’20

INSTRUMENT/MATERIAL RETURN: If you are an 8th grader, or a 6th or 7th grader who will not be continuing with band/orchestra in 2020 – 2021, and you have a school- or district-owned instrument/materials in your possession, fill out this web form as soon as possible, and bring everything you need to return to MMS on Monday, June 1st between 1:00 and 5:00 PM. Here are the procedures for the instrument/material return. See this post below for further details.

FINAL WEEK: June 1 – 5 will be the final week in which band/orchestra assignments will be given. After you’ve completed this week’s classwork, you’re done for the school year! I will NOT be assigning anything to be done on June 8th or 9th, which are technically the last two days of the school year. Additionally, this will be the last week of office hours and music chat. If you know you need help on any of this week’s assignments early in the week, stop in to the Zoom office hour on Tuesday rather than waiting until Thursday. I would love to get a big turnout for the last music chat as well!

GRADES: I have been gathering grades over the past few weeks on my own in Google Sheets so that I’ll have a permanent record of what was done during distance learning by each student. With the end of the school year looming, I will be slowly but surely entering them into PowerSchool. One of the many reasons that I won’t be assigning any work for June 8th or 9th is because I plan to dedicate those days entirely for grade input.

LATE SUBMISSIONS: If you’re going to get some late classwork in from previous weeks of distance learning, I’d highly recommend doing it by June 5th. SmartMusic, NoteFlight, Sight Reading Factory, and Google Classroom are not integrated with one another, and they’re definitely not tied into PowerSchool. Keep in mind that there are four separate classes and six weeks’ worth of assignments on each of those platforms. Therefore, it’s unlikely I’ll have time to trawl through each assignment of each class on each platform (a.k.a. “the haystack”) to find your late completion (a.k.a. “the needle”).

SUMMER HOLDS: If you’re in 6th or 7th grade and you plan on continuing with band/orchestra as your elective in 2020 – 2021 and you have school- or district-owned instruments/materials in your possession, please complete this web form to register your instruments/materials for a summer hold. Due to the COVID-19 situation, students in this situation can simply hold onto school- or district-owned materials over the summer and bring them back when school resumes in the fall.

SRHS MUSIC ZOOM MEETING: 8th graders, if you are taking music classes at SRHS, don’t forget to register for the important informational meeting happening on Zoom on Monday, June 8th at 7:00 PM. Students and at least one parent should “attend” the meeting. PLEASE NOTE: You need to register for this meeting in order to “attend” it! See the post below for the registration link.

URGENT: Instrument/Material Return

Mr. Brown and MMS administration will be hosting musical instrument return for school- or district-owned instruments on Monday, June 1st, 2020 from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM. With the return window coming up soon, and depending on you and your situation, there are several important and time-sensitive items in this message that may or may not require action on your part. Please ask yourself the following two yes-or-no questions to determine the appropriate course of action for you:

  1. Do I have a school- or district-owned instrument in my possession?
  2. Do I plan to continue with band/orchestra at MMS next school year?
    • All 8th graders answer “no” to #2
      • I know you will continue, of course, but it won’t be at MMS, obviously

IF “NO” FOR #1 (answer to #2 is irrelevant if answer to #1 is “no”)
If you do not have a school- or district-owned instrument in your possession at this time, regardless of grade level or continuation status, then no action whatsoever is required as it concerns the MMS Instrumental Music program. You do not need to attend the instrument return on Monday, June 1st. 8th graders, if you have some other item belonging to the school or the district that you received from me (warm-up/method book, special mouthpiece, instrument accessory, etc.) please return it to the school during your normal textbook/material return time the last week of May. Before you quit reading this blog post, please proceed to the final item in this message.

All students in this category that currently have school- or district-owned instrument/materials in your possession are REQUIRED to return any and all instruments/materials on Monday, June 1st between 1:00 and 5:00 PM. Please complete this web form to assist Mr. Brown’s planning for your instrument’s return. The procedures for June 1st will be emailed to you within a day or two of submitting your response on the web form. 8th graders returning instruments/materials on June 1st may also return ALL of their school materials (textbooks/materials from any other class) on this date to save parents multiple trips to the school for the return of school materials, which means that 8th graders in this situation can forgo their material turn-in date during the final week of May. Before you quit reading this blog post, please proceed to the final item in this message.

Due to the current circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, 6th and 7th graders planning to continue with band/orchestra at MMS during the 2020 – 2021 school year may hold onto their school- or district-owned instrument/materials over the summer of 2020. Please register your summer instrument/material hold by completing this web form no later than Friday, June 5th. Before you quit reading this blog post, please proceed to the final item in this message.

Considering a number of factors, including this early return of school instruments as well as the inconsistency of participation in band/orchestra distance learning, I have decided that I will NOT be assigning a Quarter 4 Performance Assessment (Q4PA) via distance learning. The final full week of school will look like a typical distance learning week with a music theory lesson, SmartMusic exercises, and a sight reading assignment. Students that turn in their instruments on Monday, June 1st will still be responsible for the June 1 – 5 distance learning assignments. The music theory assignments do not require instruments, and all Sight Reading Factory and SmartMusic assignments can be played/recorded percussively (on SmartMusic) or rhythm only (on Sight Reading Factory) by clapping the rhythm, tapping the rhythm on a desk/table, etc.

Update 5/21/20: Grades, extra-long weekend/another 4-day week

GRADES: I’ve gotten many questions this week about grades and why none have been posted on PowerSchool for band/orchestra classes as of yet. There are a number of reasons, but there is one main one, and that is SDUSD’ grade protection policy that states that no one’s grade can decrease from where it stood in a given class as of March 13th, 2020 (policy can be found on SDUSD distance learning FAQ). Additionally, grades may only increase from their standing on March 13th as a result of classwork completed during distance learning. So here’s what’s up with that…

“A” STUDENTS: The good news is that 130 out of 193 band/orchestra students, which is 67% of the entire program, have an “A” grade locked in for the second semester. As I begin entering distance learning grades into PowerSchool over this weekend and next week, “A” students will be receiving full credit for each assignment regardless of their actual score on the assignment. This will make it so that I don’t have to keep track of a bunch of individual exceptions and unique situations. Please know that all classwork is still being tracked and recorded, and I encourage you to continue your work in your music class if you hope to have as normal of a 2020 – 2021 school year in band/orchestra as possible. Intermediate Band/Orchestra students who wish to promote to Advanced Band/Orchestra next school year MUST participate in distance learning even if they have an “A.” You may have locked in an “A” for this semester, but as per the distance learning syllabus addendum, promotion to the advanced level is NOT guaranteed if there is a lack of participation in distance learning.

“B” OR LOWER STUDENTS: Students earning a “B” or lower as of March 13th will be my priority in terms of logging grades into PowerSchool. If you wish to improve your overall grade in band/orchestra from where it was on March 13th, distance learning classwork is the ONLY way for you to do so. If you want to get in touch with me about your situation, please feel free to email me or comment on a post or assignment on Google Classroom. I am also willing to schedule one-on-one Zoom meetings outside of regular office hours to support students. Let’s work together to bring your grade closer to where you want it to be!

4-DAY WEEKEND: Happy extra-long, 4-day Memorial Day weekend! I’ll bet COVID-19 health advisories will make this 4-day weekend look pretty similar to most days, just with less schoolwork, but it’s still a nice break nonetheless. With the 4-day weekend, that means that next week will be another 4-day week. To see full details about how that affects band/orchestra classwork, see the post below. The short summary is that there is no office hour or music chat on Tuesday 5/26, the only office hour will be on Thursday 5/28, and your workload will be adjusted just like it was this week. Enjoy the break from school, everybody! Talk to you again next week!

Update 5/17/20 v2.0: Upcoming 4-day week and weekend, office hour definition, extension requests and more troubleshooting

Sorry, an accidental click of the “submit” button caused me to post/send an incomplete version of this post earlier today.  My apologies for any inconvenience or confusion!

4-DAY WEEKEND: Next weekend is a 4-day weekend in observance Memorial Day!  Next week’s instructional days will run Monday through Thursday, May 18 – 21 with Friday off.  As far as for your band/orchestra class goes, that means that assignments will be due Thursday at noon, not Friday.  The following week’s instructional days will run Tuesday through Friday, May 29 – 29.  Assignments for any class should not be assigned or due during the 4-day weekend of May 22 – 25.  As far as for your band/orchestra class goes, your new assignments for the week after Memorial Day will not be released/posted until early Tuesday morning.  Please see this post on the MMS website for info on the next two weeks and the adjustments that will take place for synchronous learning.

WORKLOAD ADJUSTMENTS: Since we will be having two 4-day weeks with the 4-day weekend in between, I will be adjusting the workload for band/orchestra classes.  During these next two weeks, there will be no assignment for Sight Reading Factory.  Students will continue with a music theory assignment as well as exercises on SmartMusic.

OFFICE HOUR/CHAT ADJUSTMENTS: Due to the adjustments in synchronous learning times this week, there will be no Thursday office hour this week (5/21/20), and next week, there will be no Tuesday office hour or music chat (5/26/20).

WHAT EXACTLY ARE OFFICE HOURS?: Many students are hearing/reading the term “office hours” a lot lately but might not be fully understanding of what that means.  Office hours is a term from colleges and universities.  The classrooms in which professors teach their classes are not their actual offices.  Office hours are specifically-stated times each week in which professors commit to sitting in their actual office, wherever that is on their campus, and making themselves available for one-on-one or small group help.  This is exactly what my office hours are for: individual or small group help, account recoveries, instrument repair questions, a few students pop in to play some pieces or exercises for feedback, and a few just come to say hello for a few minutes.  I’m sure there are other situations not covered there, but that gives you a general idea.  So, students, if a teacher has “office hours,” they generally mean optional help sessions at certain points during the week, not mandatory synchronous learning sessions.  Those would happen during designated class times according to the MMS Distance Learning Schedule.

EXTENSION REQUESTS/TROUBLESHOOTING: Students, please know that I have access to your practice statistics on Sight Reading Factory (SRF) and SmartMusic (SM).  If you are asking me for an extension on one of these assignments, but the stats show me that you only started working on them less than 24 hours prior to the deadline, your request will be denied unless you can provide a reasonable extenuating circumstance or situation that warrants an extension.  With certain rare exceptions, starting work on your assignments late in the week and running into technical difficulties is not a valid reason for an extension.  It is, however, a valid reason for rethinking how you plan schoolwork out over the course of the week.  Please keep in mind the following troubleshooting tips:

  1. SRF and SM work properly 99.9% of the time for 99.9% of its users
    • What that means is that the problem is only affecting you or a very small number of students
  2. Technical difficulties or glitches are generally user- or device-based issues
  3. Mr. Brown, unfortunately, cannot help with device-based issues
    • Mr. Brown is also not an IT professional working for any of the platforms we use for band/orchestra distance learning
    • Check out the settings and permissions on your computer/device and internet browser, try experimenting with settings/permissions to find solutions
    • Communicate with parents, siblings, and/or tech-savvy friends and relatives to try to solve microphone or computer glitch issues
  4. The troubleshooting advice from last week’s presentations is available to you in the “Classwork” tab in your Google Classroom under the “Materials and Resources” heading
  5. Try reviewing the tutorial for that platform – you might be accidentally forgetting a step or two in the process