Shakira Smith remembers when she had 25 bandmates at Archer Lodge Middle School.
That was only two years ago. Now Smith, an eighth-grader who plays the baritone horn, sits shoulder to shoulder at rehearsals with scores of students.
“People see how fun it is, and they join,” Smith said. “We recommend it to everyone.”
It’s become cool to be in the band at Archer Lodge Middle, where director Steve Rainville has created a culture that students say is welcoming, social and hard-working. Parents seem to be fans, too, as they’ve taken the lead in raising the money for the growing group.
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After taking the job in 2012, Rainville, 27, didn’t think he’d stay around long.
The East Carolina University graduate had come to Archer Lodge after teaching at a Charlotte middle school with a strong band. Rainville was happy to be closer to his family in Wilmington but was unsure he could grow a successful program in Archer Lodge.
But as he applied for other jobs, Rainville also started making changes at Archer Lodge.
To recruit more band members, he started beginner-level classes in each grade. Previously, the introductory course was offered only in sixth grade.
Rainville also started holding band classes every day, instead of every other day.
“We started giving them a love for music,” he said. “They started getting excited and learned to play an instrument.”
Students like Carley Windley, now an eighth-grade saxophone player, started telling their friends to join.
“I didn’t have many friends before I was in band,” Windley said. “It’s like a giant family; we’ve got each other’s backs.”
Rainville took recruitment to another level when he began taking his current students into the elementary schools that feed into Archer Lodge Middle.
“Most of the kids love what they do, and that makes it fun,” Rainville said. “Most of them want to be here; it’s something they want to do.”
Soon, more students were joining the band at a rapid rate. So fast that Rainville needed to raise extra money for sheet music, instrument rentals and other things he couldn’t afford with the $889 annual allocation from Johnston County Schools.
Parents came together to form the Archer Lodge Band Boosters, a group that aims to raise about $25,000 a year for the band. Kimberly Deans Brantley, the group’s president, said she was completely behind Rainville after he made sure her daughter, Mollie, was OK after not getting picked to play a percussion instrument.
“He’s here to teach them how to be good people and musicians,” Brantley said.
Wendy Stephenson, treasurer of the boosters, said the group is able to support students who can’t afford band costs. She said Rainville himself has gone out into the community to find people to sponsor kids.
“He always puts the child before the financials,” Stephenson said.
The Band Boosters will stage their first “Cow Patty Bingo” on May 9. Parents hope the event will turn into the group’s main fundraiser.
At the event, scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on the school’s football field, people will pay $100 for one of 100 spots on a large grid. A cow will walk around the grid until it poops on one of the spots. Whoever bought that spot gets half the money; the other half goes to the band.
“We would really like to see this grow into an event not just about the band but about Archer Lodge,” Brantley said.
‘Pretty great kids’
The growth of the Archer Lodge band program has started showing up at nearby Corinth Holders High, where Rainville is the assistant band director.
Rainville said his presence at the high school makes the transition easier for his younger students. And with a current roster of 276 band members at the middle school, he’ll have a lot of students moving up in coming years.
The band is so large that it has to practice in the gym when the full ensemble gets together. On a recent Tuesday, a smaller 100-member spring band could barely fit in the regular band room.
For someone who considered leaving after his first day, Rainville said he never imagined the band would become what it is today.
“The Lord has a funny way of doing things,” he said. “I teach some pretty great kids.”
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104
Cow Patty Bingo
The Archer Lodge Middle School Band Boosters will host their inaugural Cow Patty Bingo event at 11:30 a.m. May 9 on the school’s football field. Tickets are $100 each. For more information, email email@example.com