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The beat goes strong

The beat goes strong

 "I can't say I was interested before. I'd never really experienced it before," says Aaron Taylor. "But once I got to actually hear it, like close-to-close, one-on-one, I was very interested."

            The recently graduated Taylor took to the drums when he joined John Marshall High School's pan-drum band. In his four years with Urban Steel, the band traveled to Antigua twice, hosted students from Antigua's St. Joseph's Academy twice, completed almost two albums, and played more gigs than you'd ever expect a group of teens to commit to.

            Much more creativity goes into Urban Steel's music than you'll find at a traditional school-band practice. Songs aren't completely improvised but they're not all pre-written either. "We just like start playing and add parts to it," says Urban Steel member Rob Tobey. "We come up with our own songs and other parts of other songs that's actual written music and we just practice that."

            The band got started in October 1999, when Hell's Gate Steel Orchestra came from Antigua to perform and to teach John Marshall students how to make steel pans for the drums. A group of enthusiastic students created Urban Steel with their newly made instruments.

            Through Marshall High's musical exchange program, Taylor, Tobey, and other members of Urban Steel went to Antigua during their last spring break, where they played with Hell's Gate and St. Joseph's Academy Rhythm Masters in Antigua.

            "How can I explain it?" says Taylor. "You learn about a total different culture and how they deal with life, you know. Everybody's just like family, like on the whole island, everybody." Next year, students that Urban Steel members met in Antigua will make a trip to Rochester.

            For more information on Urban Steel, visit Hear the band on Thursday, July 21, at the Fairport Gazebo at 7 p.m. or on Saturday, July 23, at the Madagascar Fete at Seneca Park Zoo.

--- Katie Sauer

In or Out

A Rochester School Board committee is trying to find a more direct way for the district to tell parents about their right to withhold students' personal information from military and other recruiters.

            Last week, the board's policy committee agreed to draft a letter with a multiple choice-style list of recruiting agencies, including the military, colleges, and employers. Beside each category, parents could indicate whether they wanted the district to release their students' information.

            The letter would be mailed out to parents during the first two weeks of the school year. Currently, parents are informed of their right to protect students' information only in the district's annual Calendar and Directory of Information, and the word "military" is not mentioned. Critics have said that the district's wording is too vague and that the information gets lost in the expansive document.

            Although a letter would be a more assertive approach, policy committee members were also worried that some parents may not respond. "We can't assume that just because parents don't respond to the letters that we send out that it means that they are automatically 'opting out,'" said Commissioner Willa Powell. "We send out a lot of mail to parents that they don't respond to, but we don't make any assumptions about that except that they didn't respond. If parents do not respond, then I think we show it as a 'no response,' meaning we don't know what they expected."

            District legal counsel Michael Looby cautioned the committee that a "no response" policy would have to be the same for military and non-military recruiters. If it just applied to the military, it could violate the federal No Child Left Behind Act and jeopardize federal funding.

            The full School Board is expected to review a draft of the letter at its August 25 meeting.

Safety on their minds

Two recent shootings served as all-too-fresh reminders of Rochester's violence problem. First 12-year-old Fred Lewis was gunned down for no apparent reason near his home. Two days later, a police officer seriously wounded 13-year-old Lashedica Mason after she allegedly charged at the officer and a family member with a kitchen knife.

            It was in that emotionally-charged atmosphere that last week's community policing meeting, hosted by City Councilmember Adam McFadden, took place. The meeting was the latest in a series McFadden has held to give residents a chance to comment on the city's approach to public safety. And the event drew a large crowd.

            But the meeting, which had been scheduled before the youths were shot, was not an angry session focusing on those shootings. Like previous other McFadden meetings, speakers touched on a wide range of concerns, from their own safety their children's safety to police behavior. There were complaints that the schools are at fault, that society is at fault, that in high-crime neighborhoods residents themselves must assume more responsibility.

            McFadden asked participants to talk about three specific proposals: a surveillance-camera pilot program, day and night curfews, and anti-gang legislation. All three drew passionate responses both pro and con, but in the end, a straw vote of those in the room signaled solid support for exploring them further.

Tunnel dreaming

Like many grassroots groups, the folks from the Subway Erie Canal Revitalization group have an abundance of great ideas.

            They're fervently trying to preserve Rochester's abandoned subway tunnel, parts of which were once the Erie Canal. But city officials want to spend about $21 million (almost all of it state and federal funds) to fill in part of the tunnel with dirt. The targeted section runs from near Brown and Broad Streets to Exchange Street.

            The preservationists are active, and they're persistent. They've hosted tours of the tunnel, attracting hundreds of people. They've had "Chill the Fill" T-shirts printed. And they've been attending City Council meetings, pleading for the tunnel's preservation.

            Save it for a future light rail project, they've suggested. Or flood it, recreating a portion of the Erie Canal downtown. Or create a transit museum. Or a bike trail. Or leave it as it is. Anything but fill it in.

            But how much would those things cost? And where would the money come from? "I don't know," one of the group's leaders, Pepsy Kettavong, told Ink last week. "It's premature at this point."

            Eventually the group wants to "have a professional look into the solution," at least for the top three ideas: light rail, a canal, or a combination bike trail and museum.

            The group has adopted at least one pragmatic position from watching their elected leaders at work: combine all their projects.

            "If you combine these three ideas, the chance of getting funding is much better," says Kettavong, "just like Renaissance Square."

            The city's response: That section of the tunnel has deteriorated so severely that it's dangerous. It could collapse, city officials say, causing Broad Street to cave in. City Council asked that options for the tunnel be explored, City Engineer George Stam told Ink earlier this summer, and city staff did so. Some of those options, he said, are "technically feasible but hugely expensive."

            City Council is expected to vote on the fill-in in the fall. Meantime, one portion of historic canal bed --- the Broad Street Aqueduct --- is scheduled for preservation and reuse. It's to become a pedestrian walkway, and adjacent space could become a museum or retail space.