Orchestra Isn't 'Squid Game' - There Is Room For Growth!

By Michael F. Abrams - Website Curator
Fine & Performing Arts
April 21, 2023

Developing 21st century skills designed to support student empowerment is one of many outcomes the Portrait of a Graduate (POG) program was created to achieve. At Mount Vernon High School, teachers use a variety of activities, new voices and collaborative learning opportunities to enhance these attributes. The MVHS Orchestra Day is an example of one of the learning opportunities.

Orchestra Day is an in-school all day activity designed to enhance experiences and support the preparation of MVHS Orchestra students for their district concert assessments which is considered the Performing Arts version of a Standards of Learning (SOL) exam. 

This is the sixth year for this learning experience created by Mr. Rodriguez, MVHS Orchestra teacher & director. Participating students are excused from the day’s scheduled classes for the in-school activity. Upon arrival, students are grouped (by class or musical section) for dedicated practice time for the music they will present during their assessment. What makes this day unique is the day’s sessions are facilitated by a guest with no previous connection to MVHS. In past years, conductors from other parts of Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Canada have come to work with our students for the day.

This year, Mr. Joel Ross, a High School Orchestra Director from Shenandoah Public Schools collaborated with students during the day of assessment practices. Mr. Ross focused on the 2022 - 2023 objectives outlined by Mr. Rodriguez but through his own teaching experiences and presentation style. This collaborative process allowed students to hear a new voice which offered different feedback opportunities along with the added new perspectives for the music students had interacted with leading into the assessment window. 

Orchestra Day 2022 - 2023 Highlights

After hearing the feedback responses, sectional groups were given the chance to breakaway for smaller practice sessions to help fine tune their playing based on the feedback. Throughout the  year, Mr. Rodriguez reiterated the importance of making mistakes as a part of the learning process. He mentioned that he “likes to joke with the kids and tell them that orchestra isn’t ‘Squid Game’. If you mess up a note, it’s not like something terrible is going to happen - there is room for growth!”

The day is not strictly practice and preparation. Students also participate in team building activities including games and are treated to an Orchestra Booster sponsored lunch. The team building and lunch periods are instrument free and help to provide needed bonding time for the respective orchestra teams.

MVHS currently has two different orchestras, at different playing levels which meet on different schedule days. These day to day differences do not always provide the groups with the chance to come together for extensive learning and playing opportunities. The Orchestra Day activities provide students the chance to connect with one another which in turn helps to support their growth within the program. 

At the end of the day’s activities, students have the opportunity to reflect on their day and make recommendations for the future dates. Planning for the 2023-24 Orchestra Day is already underway.

POG Connections


  • Students listened to feedback shared by Mr. Ross in order to adjust their play styles
  • Students worked with other teams/sections during practice sessions to improve how they played
  • Students completed reflective activities using online tools to share thoughts for planning next year’s activities 


  • Students came together as a group to improve their overall playing performances
  • Students used feedback shared by Mr. Ross to adjust how they played

Ethical and Global Citizen

  • Students bonded during practice and non-practice session to gain trust among their respective orchestras

Creative and Critical Thinkers

  • Students demonstrated creative expression through their play and questions to Mr. Ross

Goal-Directed and Resilient Individual

  • Students received feedback and completed reflections to better support their individual growth