The secret behind the success of Vandergrift High School’s marching band — including being crowned the 2019 Bands of America Grand National Champion — is teamwork. “We have been very fortunate to have an incredible team of educators working side by side at Vandegrift HS over the past eight years,” says Katie VanDoren, the associate director of bands. “Mike Howard [the director of bands] and I have worked together the whole time, and we complement each other well. We haven’t reached our limit yet!”
Not only has the band garnered awards at national competitions, the program has grown in numbers and quality. VanDoren believes that this growth is due to “the incredible work happening at our middle schools, and the profound support we experience from our school and district administration, and our community.”
This support was vital during the pandemic. “This year, after our students finished their last performance, I experienced one of my proudest moments as an educator,” VanDoren says. “For the seniors and juniors who made it through the COVID years and the sophomores and freshmen who made it through a real year of marching band, it was a feeling of immense pride to watch them finish and be proud of themselves and their journey.”
VanDoren is involved in several other organizations that advocate for music education. She is the assistant brass caption head for Santa Clara Vanguard, a clinician for Music for All and a member of SASI Leadership (a student leadership organization where she works as a facilitator at site-based camps and on the education team for drum major camps). “Managing the different roles I play during the year comes down to having a great support system in my husband and those I work with in each arena,” she explains. “There is definitely a lot of time spent working, but I am fortunate that everyone I surround myself with is also passionate about establishing boundaries for free time and family time.”
VanDoren is a true believer of continuous improvement. “There is always something personally or within any given system that can be better, whether you are looking at efficiency or efficacy,” she says. “Gradual, small improvement over time is what makes the big things happen!”
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