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School choir prevails over budget cuts, heading to World Choir Games

LITTLE MIAMI, Ohio (Jeff Hirsh) -- In May of 2012, Cincinnati was getting ready to host the World Choir Games.

Hundreds of groups and thousands of voices turned the Queen City into a festival of song.

The World Choir Games are in Riga, Latvia for 2014, and only one local choir group is going. But the fact that this choir even exists, let alone is traveling overseas, is nothing short of amazing.

It would be a bit much to say that music saved the Little Miami School District, not financially anyway, but spiritually? That's another story.

Not spiritually in the religious sense, but spiritually in the sense of I am here, I have purpose.

This is the what the Little Miami High School Select Women's Chorale did, but for the seniors now in the chorale, their freshman year in choir was almost their last.

Voters had rejected eight straight tax levy increases. The 4,500 student system was hemorrhaging money and in 2010, the state of Ohio declared a fiscal emergency and took over the district.

Two school buildings were closed, busing reduced, more than 100 teachers let go and the budget for activities like the Women's Chorale was cut to zero.

"We were all scared. I started looking for other jobs," says the chorale director, Sarah Baker.
The chorale that Baker had built over a decade from nearly nothing to a top-rated competitive ensemble was on the verge of extinction. A disaster not only for Baker, but for young people at a vulnerable age.

"I'd finally found my niche in high school; this is where I feel comfortable. This is where I feel welcomed and accepted, and it was kind of a shock that this wouldn't be here the next year, and I wouldn't have anything," says Little Miami senior, Liberty Resnick
But as show-business-script as it may sound, Sarah Baker literally willed the choir to survive.

Baker filled the music room with inspiration. Powerful for kids looking to believe. Baker stayed at Little Miami instead of jumping ship for a more financially secure district. The girls did fund-raising concert after concert. Parents contributed.  

Baker told her students that as long as they had a choir, they would give it everything they had. They did.

"You just have to decide how are you going to behave and what kind of attitude you are going to have," says Baker.

In November, 2011, Little Miami voters finally said yes to a school tax increase, but the fiscal emergency was not lifted for nearly two more years. Many of the budget cuts, including the choir's funding for music and buses to concerts were ultimately restored. 

But just when it seemed things were smoothing out, there was another huge roadblock.

Baker, an accomplished equestrian, shattered her kneecap. That was a Friday. On Monday, she was back in school on crutches. She only took two days off after surgery and conducted rehearsals and concerts from a wheelchair.

"My attitude is very much okay, when you have an obstacle, you figure out a different way. You figure out another way to make things work, and I needed to be here with these girls. I needed to do these things with them," says Baker.

Like getting them ready for international competition. The choir, Which was pulled from  the brink  of extinction by a dynamic teacher and by students who refused to give up, is going to the World Choir Games in Riga, Latvia later this summer.

And while music did not really save the Little Miami School District, the power of voices together, sending out a message, I am here, I have purpose, may be the most important lesson these young people ever receive.

To learn more about the Little Miami Select Women's Choir, click HERE.

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