Music Saves Education

The glue that binds an educational community

on September 27, 2012

Entry 10/1
Easing in nicely these first few weeks of school.  The class configurations (roughly 20 to a class) are pretty workable.  Having a para or a tutor in each class make teaching music easy for a couple of reasons.  For one, I don’t have to stop an activity if there is a behavioral issue to attend to.  The mere presence of another adult in the room creates an easier dynamic with which to work.  A more self-(or class)-serving use of another adult in the room is simply the use of a partner in a couples dance if there is an uneven number of kids in the class.  I have the administration and my principal to thank for creating and allowing for this dynamic.

I always start the year reviewing ear training solfege concepts from the previous year.  I also dance A LOT to reinforce concepts of working together, sharing space, and moving to a beat.   I use lots of material from Andy Davis, Mary Cay Brass, and the Amidons’ books The New England Dancing Masters.  They are old friends and colleagues from around my hometown, Brattleboro, VT.  The Dancing Masters have simple couples dances from my area and around the world.  I usually accompany my class on mandolin or guitar but the recordings that go with the material are great as well.    So far, my students  are a happy lot, taking it all in.  My 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders loved the stories I shared about my time at Pete Seeger’s house last week but in order for them to fully appreciate who he is, I needed to spend a few minutes on Youtube exposing them to various aspects of his life.  My kindergarteners are easing in and starting to understand how to enter the classroom sit still, and be silly at the appropriate times!

It’s at this point that I would like digress.  I realize that I have not fully contextualized my educational perspective.   In order to give you the whole picture as you read future day to day entries, I’d like to backtrack and talk a bit about how I landed at Symonds some years ago and what makes our school a special place to be for students and teachers alike:

A little history:
I started at Symonds school 5 years ago, having taught for about 8 years prior in various small elementary schools throughout Vermont and New Hampshire, and in a preschool Montessori center in Albany, New York.   I also worked as a math and science teacher in a school for at risk youth 4-12th grade in Holyoke, MA.    Keene is in many ways the opposite of Holyoke, MA.  While Holyoke is a post industrial urban New England town with a large lower income Latino and African- American community, Keene  might be characterized as a picturesque. mid sized, white, rural, politically middle of the road middle income community.

Not that Keene doesn’t have problems that everywhere America has– it does!  …Poverty, drugs, empty store fronts, etc. but Keene has a kind of Rockwellian optimism (and looks the part too) that for the most part doesn’t exist in the America that I have experienced. A measured democratic culture with an educated and civically active white and blue collar population.   Keene has a college (Keene State) AND industry.   Despite the fact that Keene has been placed in New Hampshire, the taxpayers mostly believe in paying for public education.  That said, the “no raising state taxes” pledge that politicians in NH must take to get elected has placed a tax burden on local communities that is proportionally greater than her sister states Massachusetts and Vermont.

Symonds has an active PTA and a principal that believe in a liberal arts education.  In other words, an all inclusive education that encompasses physical activity and visual and performing arts into the academic curriculum.  This is intertwined with the aforementioned social curriculum, Responsive Classroom.  This all comes together to create a school with a positive working environment.  In other words, I have a great job!

The other factor that makes my everyday wonderful is a highly collaborative staff.   The PE teacher (Beth), the art teacher (John) and I form what is called the Quest team.  Sounds like a superhero squad or sorts but we are a team set up to use “Quest”  money– This money is put aside by the district and used by each of the five Keene elementary schools differently.  Some schools use it for gifted and talented programs.  Our school collectively believes in the enrichment of all students, thus the money is used by our superhero squad to create programs that support arts and academic activities throughout the building.  This means that I can do crazy things like write a play for the entire school, hire a choreographer, call up folks from Bread and Puppet (a legendary puppetry troupe)  to build enormous puppets and end up with an outdoor production involving 330 students, 40 staff, and watched by over 700 family and community members.  This is true.  The pictures on this site are a testament to that.

Last year I got a grant from the Putnam Foundation to do a cool project.  My next post will be a description of that….


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