Thursday, December 15, 2011

JAMM Expands with Sustainability in Mind

Kiara Ziengenfuss will continue to have violin instruction as JAMM expands to 1st grade
This year, JAMM expanded it programming to include all kindergartners and 1st graders.  120 students will receive 90 min/wk of violin instruction, during the school day.

JAMM is an in-school model for a reason.  As a school music teacher, I hoped to promote a model that utilizes existing resources, addresses the needs of public schools, provides access to all students at an early age and is sustainable over time.  Consider these figures:
  • JAMM's 1st year:  the cost for one kindergarten student to receiver 90 min/wk of violin instruction was $213 for the school year.
  • JAMM's 2nd year: the cost dropped to $60 per kindergartner for the same delivery of instruction.  $60 per student for the entire school year!  That's sustainable.
JAMM kindergartners and 1st graders at Glacier Valley Elementary School

This is how JAMM does it:
  • Utilizes existing school personnel:  music teacher and kindergarten teacher help with instruction, including paraeducators assigned to work with students with special needs.
  • Professional development is embedded:  Suzuki instructor, Mr. Xia, teams alongside music and classroom teachers.  Each provides a different strength while learning from one another.  The next year, Mr. Xia moves up with the 1st grade classes, while music and classroom teachers deliver the kindergarten program on their own with help from a volunteer or intern. This approach also frees up Mr. Xia so that he can help other schools start-up similar programs.
  • Students double, not instruments:  Even though the number of students grew from 60 to 120 in one year, instruments are still be shared among the six 1st grade and kindergarten classes during the school day.
  • Effective use of time:  children at this young age can tire out early.  By providing violin instruction as part of their school day, students are more alert, attentive and benefit from having their music teacher and classroom teacher present to manage the class, provide developmentally appropriate instruction and maintain consistent routines.  Behavior issues are minimal so that when JAMM moves to an after-school program for 2nd graders, behavior expectations and consistent school culture are already in place. 
  • Provides access for all students:  An after-school program still might not reach every student.  JAMM ensures that all kindergartners and 1st graders receive instrumental instruction as part of their school day for those first two years at Glacier Valley.
  • Expands the role of the music teacher who not only provides general music classes, but also instrumental music classes in the primary grades that help school readiness skills, like focus, discipline, teamwork and impulse control.
  • Increases the number of advocates:  JAMM is more visible because it occurs during the school day, allowing teachers and other school staff see its success in action. 
  • Glacier Valley Parent Group: is our sponsoring organization with a phenomenal parent volunteer, Katrina Laneville, who helps with finances.  
    Kindergarten teacher, Kaye Peters, models alongside her students, just like the other Glacier Valley teachers photographed above

    JAMM's in-school model is spreading!  At the local level, Riverbend Elementary School, another Title I school in the Juneau School District, plans to start a violin program for their kindergartners next year.  And nationally, El Sistema Colorado is basing its first program at Garden Place Elementary School in Denver on JAMM's in-school model.  I traveled there in November to provide teacher training and share the work that we've been doing here in Juneau.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Glacier Valley's Tlingit Dance and Drum Group

    Proud members of Glacier Valley's Tlingit Dance and Drum Group
    Last week, over seventy Glacier Valley students in 1st through 5th grades proudly entered the gymnasium to share with the school community what they've been learning in Tlingit Dance and Drum Group.  Thanks to funding from the Association of Alaska School Board's Initiative for Community Engagement (Alaska ICE) and the Juneau School District At-Risk Music grant, Glacier Valley teachers were able to sponsor this after-school group for an hour, each week.

    The Tlingit Dance and Drum group is the newest addition to JAMM whose mission is to "develop neighborhood programs that create community pride, partnership and active participation."  JAMM also supports the growth of culturally relevant music and is thrilled that Hans Chester and Glenda Lindley can share their Alaska Native heritage as the club's sponsors.  As the number of students in the club grew, Janalynn Ferguson jumped in to help. 

    These Glacier Valley teachers have kindly written a summary sharing the club's semester highlights:

    The original plan was to build a dance group at Glacier Valley of about 25 or so students; two months later we have 72 members who meet every Tuesday after school to drum, (sing) and dance.  These students feel content to be in a place that is familiar, doing something they love to do, to the beat of the drum.  The drum being a source of power that draws students, in a nurturing way. 
    Our members are currently putting together their lineage so that the songs we sing represent the member's rightful ownership.  Students are learning who they are by looking at where they came from.
    Starting in January, we plan to meet twice a week and begin to put together a more formal performance presentation.  Members will learn how to introduce themselves, the songs they sing in Tlingit, as well as the history of the songs we are using.  We will also look at regalia needs and figure out how to fill the gaps for all members.
    On January 14th, 9:00 - 1:00 p.m., we have invited the dance group families and Glacier Valley staff to help make 25 drums for the dance group and Glacier Valley.  This is a tall order for members so we are counting on family, friends and community to get the drums made.
    The Tlingit Drum and Dance group has already grown past our initial expectation!  That suggests an opportunity to recognize the need and to provide for a larger membership.  How exciting.
    Hans Chester, Glenda Lindley, and Janalynn Ferguson 
    More members prepare for their entrance into the Glacier Valley gym

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    JAMM's Winter Concert: Make Room for 120 Young Musicians

    Mr. Xia, JAMM's violin instructor, leads his ever-growing orchestra (Photo: Michael Penn, Juneau Empire)

    A sea of blue JAMM t-shirts filled the Glacier Valley Elementary School gymnasium, as 120 kindergarten and 1st grade students stood proudly, ready to share with families and friends what they've learned.  One year ago, the first kindergarten class of JAMM violinists graduated from their Paper Violins.  It was an exciting moment for these young musicians because this performance represented a rite of passage: one that acknowledged them as responsible and skilled violinists ready to play the real violin.   

    Now, as 1st graders, they not only had the thrill of performing in front of a packed audience, but also the honor of giving the next class of kindergartners a glimpse of where they might be a year from now. 

    Here are highlights from their two performances:

    JAMM would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for their generous support of this fledgling program.  In just over a year's time,  you have ensured that all kindergarten and 1st grade students receive access to quality musical instruction during school hours.  From the entire Glacier Valley community, thank you!

    Association of Alaska School Boards
    Great Blue Heron Fund 
    Greg Burger and Mary DeSmet
    Classics for Kids
    Douglas-Dornan Foundation
    Glacier Valley Parent Group
    Juneau Community Foundation
    Juneau School District 
    Stan and Amy Lujan
    Kim Poole
    Rasmuson Foundation

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    What About Those Test Scores?

    Kindergartners proudly sing "This is My Violin"
    The arts are often difficult to quantify.  When Glacier Valley first launched JAMM, we knew we were in a unique position.
    1. JAMM takes place during school hours, which eliminates variables connected with after-school programs or charter schools whose families may be self-selecting based on interest, transportation, etc.
    2. ALL kindergartners receive violin instruction, which solves the challenge of establishing a random sample.
    3. Glacier Valley is a Title I, which means many of our children are eligible for free and reduced lunch, identifying them as at-risk
    Should make for a solid research study, right?  Not exactly.  In order to establish a causal link between instrumental music and academic success, JAMM would need to identify a control group among its kindergartners.  This would mean denying some of our students free violin instruction, something JAMM would not consider.

    What we could do is establish a correlational link by comparing the kindergartners fall and spring MAP (Measurement of Academic Success).  By doing so, we'd also be comparing their scores before and after receiving eight months of violin instruction.

    What were the results?  In the words of Phil Loseby, the Juneau School District's Assessment Coordinator, "Significant!"

    Here are the results in graph form:

    GV Kindergartners' Fall Reading Scores:  No Violin Instruction

    GV Kindergartners' Winter Reading Scores:  5 months of Violin Instruction

    GV Kindergartners' Spring Reading Scores:  8 months of Violin Instruction

    Here are their year-end scores in math:

    GV Kindergartners' Spring Math Scores

    These scores certainly caught the attention of the school district!  Even though JAMM can't make a causal link between music and academic success, it mirrors the ever-growing body of research that can. 

    Glacier Valley continues to work with the school district to identify ways to measure JAMM's success. In the eyes of the participating teachers, students, parents and sponsors; JAMM's success is apparent and meeting its goals of community pride, parental involvement and student engagement.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    Abreu Fellows Intern at JAMM

    This year, three of the ten Abreu Fellows from the Class of 2011 chose JAMM for their internship.  Alsyia Lee and Stephanie Hsu are here for three weeks and Julie Davis, for four.  These talented women wanted to extend the teacher training experience I provided in Boston - observing the first, team-teaching the second and teaching on their own while I supported them on the sidelines, observing and filming. 
    JAMM is the ideal place for this kind of embedded professional development.  It's a place where teachers can observe all age-ranges, teach the same lesson to several classes with the opportunity to reflect and refine each time and participate in before, during and after-school music programs.  The fellows' internship also coincided with the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council teaching artist series, which all three were able to attend.  Sessions focused on classroom management, brain theory, curriculum standards and dynamic lesson planning. 

    Some of the effective teaching practices they applied included:
    • developing an attention-getting hook
    • using positive language
    • making transitions fluid and connected to the lesson
    • presenting information in manageable chunks
    • building a lesson that breathes in and out
    • practicing a credible body and voice
    • creating episodes using location, emotion, movement and relevance
    • providing choices for students
    • using enforceable statements
    • giving consequences with empathy
    • experience first, intellectualize later
    JAMM and Juneau have benefited greatly from having Alysia, Stephanie and Julie here.  Alysia is a vocalists who started her own non-profti; Stephani taught at an alternative high school in NYC and plays viola; and Julie holds a music education degree from Northwestern, during which she taught in an after-school strings program, the YOURS project.  During their stay here, Julie and Stephanie played in the Juneau Symphony concert of Sweeney Todd.  Alysia spent hours at the Juneau Public Library using the Foundation Research Center to identify grant-giving organizations for JAMM, and all of them choreographed a dance to Michael Jackson's Thriller for Glacier Valley's Harvest Carnival. 

    Every time I observe another teacher in action, I always come away from the experience a better one.  Whether it was watching Alysia teach breathing exercises to the Morning Musicians, Julie encouraging partner activities in violin class (see photo above) or Stephanie inspiring students to create a soundscape from a painting, my teaching toolbox expanded. 

    Alysia sings "Frog in the Meadow" for Mrs. Peters' Kindergarten class using novelty to make repetition engaging

    Thank you, Abreu Fellows, for making the journey to Juneau, working with JAMM and making us feel very much a part of a larger El Sistema network.  Below is a video of Julie and Stephanie serenading Mrs. Peters' class during a very special moment:  the first time the entire class held the real violin.  In addition there are more photos documenting their time with us.  Stephanie, we also appreciate you dedicating a blog entry about your experience here. 


    The Abreu Fellows' first week with JAMM observing our team-teaching model in action
    Julie helps one of our Morning Musicians "pass off" on a piece for an upcoming concert

    Stephanie joins Mrs. Steininger's kindergarten class for "This is My Violin"
    Alysia explores creative movement with Mrs. Peters' class

    Sunday, October 30, 2011

    Sweet Plantain Visit Glacier Valley

    Mrs. Vreeland's 1st grade class proudly stands with members of Sweet Plantain
    Sweet Plantain, a string quartet that blends classical, jazz and Latin styles, visited Juneau as part of their Alaskan tour.  While here, they gladly accepted an invitation to perform at Glacier Valley Elementary School before hopping on a plane to their next stop.  This dynamic quartet supports music education in their hometown of New York City where they started a string ensemble program for a school in South Bronx. They designed curricula "to empower the students through musical forms representative of their community's cultural heritage, while at the same time exposing them to classic Western forms.  Sound familiar?  Yes, one of the members of this quartet is a product of Venezuela's El Sistema.

    After performing for the entire student body, the quartet attended an impromptu performance by Mrs.Vreeland's 1st grade violin class in the music room.  There we had a chance to ask the members questions and personally thank them for such an inspirational performance.  But it was Sweet Plantain who thanked us for inspiring them.  One member explained that in NYC cuts had been made to an instrumental program that he'd been involved with for years.   Seeing a program like JAMM gave him hope.

    Thank you, Sweet Plantain, for showing your commitment to music education wherever you travel.  Thank you, Juneau Arts and Humanities Council for sponsoring them and making a performance at Glacier Valley possible.

    Saturday, October 15, 2011

    JAMM Takes the Next Big Step: After-School Hours

    JAMM after-school club:  1st graders drum with buckets and tubanos
    JAMM has been an in-school model until now.  Thanks to Alaska ICE and Rasmuson Cultural Collaborations grants, first graders also can attend an after-school club, once a week for 2 hours beginning in October.  8-% of our first graders are enrolled, ready for general music instruction, violin lessons and bucket band!

    First grade is a transition year, gradually moving its programming from an in-school model to after-school.  Kindergartners have violin class during school hours and 2nd graders will hold class after-school when JAMM expands to 2nd grade next year.

    A general music curriculum is part of JAMM's after-school club

    This transition has intention.  Its purpose is to maintain quality of instruction, consistent school culture, behavioral expectations, and developmentally appropriate practice (recognizing that these little ones get tired!)

    It's also a transition year for JAMM's teaching model:
    • All 1st grade violin classes replace in-school general music time.  This was a tough decision, but it was the only option for JAMM to ensure that all 1st graders received at least two years of a solid foundation in string pedagogy.  This is one reason why the after-school club has a general music component. 
    • 1st grade teacher do not attend these violin sessions because it's their prep time.  Instead, they've each schedule an additional 30 minutes during the week for their class to come to the music room and "show and tell" what they've been doing in violin.  This way music and classroom teachers can continue to build connections across the curriculum.
    • The classroom teachers' absence allow the music teacher and teaching artist to command the classroom on their own before moving into daily after-school hours when their management skills will be most tested.
      Diane Barnett, who has been assisting in both kindergarten and 1st grade violin classes and Amy Bibb, a recent MAT music graduate, will lead JAMM club.  They are both indispensable to the program and JAMM is fortunate to have them!  As the school music teacher, I will also be there to support and help maintain consistency between in-school and after-school expectations.

      Amy Bib leads the 1st graders in a warm-up activity before drumming

      Thank you, Association of Alaska School Boards, Rasmuson Foundation and the Alaska State Council on the Arts for helping JAMM take its next big step. Here is a short video clip of Abreu Fellow, Julie Davis, leading the club in a partnering activity to help students isolate one skill at a time:  bowing or fingering.  Thank you, Julie, for sharing so many technique games with our students!

      Friday, October 7, 2011

      My Wish for El Sistema-inspired Programs: Collaboration

      Rebecca Levi and Levi Comstock team-teaching at CLCS
      Last week I shared my experiences working with the El Sistema Boston staff at Conservatory Lab Charter School and how powerful collaboration can be.  Collaboration works.  It's why all JAMM classes are team-taught.

      If I could wish anything for a new initiative, it would be a team-teaching model, especially in those critical start-up years.  Here's why:
      • Your weakness may be the other teacher's strength.  Together you create better lessons, while learning from one another.
      • Together you build common language, consistent school culture and expectations.  Students need to know the boundaries.  If rules and expectations change each time students move to a new classroom, they'll spend their time trying to figure out the rules by testing them, instead of focusing on the music. This is often the cause of misbehavior.  Team-teaching helps cut down on this chance of inconsistency among staff.
      • You are willing to take risks and try new strategies when you have support from another colleague.
      • You hold each other accountable for the success of the lesson by planning ahead together and establishing your roles.
      • You can reflect on lesson delivery more thoroughly when you have the benefit of two different perspectives.
      • You can have eyes in the back of your head! Your colleague can catch what you may have missed.
      • You can attend to misbehavior without having to disrupt the flow of the class.  Your colleague can often prevent the issue by proximity and by attending to it early on. 
      • You are modeling teamwork for your students, an important skill for them to see adults doing. 
      I'd like to thank the Glacier Valley and JAMM staff for investing in a team-teaching model.  It takes trust, but no one teacher has all of the answers.  By reaching out to colleagues and community members for inspiration and expertise, collaborative teaching will not only enliven and diversify instruction, but also remind you that you are never alone.

      Mrs. Peters' class benefits from three teachers:  Mrs. Peters, Mr. Xia & Miss Heagy
      Nikki Shorts and Brandon Brack at YOLA at HOLA, where team-teaching is part of its culture

      Saturday, October 1, 2011

      Meeting the Abreu Fellows Class of 2011

      Meeting the Abreu Fellows Class of 2011 at Longy School of Music
      While back east for a Teacher of the Year event in Princeton and NYC, I had the honor of traveling to Boston to meet and provide teacher training for the 2011 class of Abreu Fellows. I did a similar training for the class of 2010.  In four short days, I shared some of the most useful practices gathered over 17 years of teaching, modeled them in classrooms at the Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS) for the fellows to observe and debriefed afterward, focusing on what worked (and what didn't), why and how will this inform us for planning tomorrow's lesson.

      In particular, I'd like to thank Levi Comstock, a strings teacher at  CLCS for welcoming me into his classroom last year where I observed, team-taught and gave feedback.  I visited his classroom again this year, as well as other El Sistema Boston staff at CLCS.  Levi's attitude is one that makes for a great teacher.  I saw this same open attitude modeled in nucleos throughout Venezuela.  Feedback given one day was incorporated into practice the next.  Levi did the same thing.

      For example, last year Levi found it challenging to keep the attention of his students while explaining bow divisions.  When we debriefed afterward, I shared some brain-compatible strategies and Waldorf principles that had worked for me.

      One in particular is the use of story.  In Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Eric Jensen describes factors that engage the mind: emotion, movement, relevance, novelty and pattern.  A story contains all of them and makes for a very effective teaching strategy. As an example of using story to teach something technical or abstract, I shared with Levi my Fox story.

      In pure Venezuelan style, Levi incorporated this feedback into his lesson the next day and created an incredible lesson. Here's the proof!  Just watch the kids as Levi sings a song he composed, "All Aboard the Bow Express."

       We both came away from the experience better teachers.  Levi blogged about the lesson to share with others.  Thank you, Levi.

      There is a growing demand for trained teachers to teach in El Sistema initiatives all over the the country,  all whom face a daunting task:  manage a large group of young children with instruments in their hands, during after-school hours.  This training in partnership with CLCS, New England Conservatory and Longy School of Music gave the Abreu Fellows a chance to see theory put into practice.

      I'd like to thank Erik Holgrem, Director of the Abreu Fellows program, for inviting me to work with the Abreu Fellow classes these past two years.  Through his leadership, teacher training is becoming an important component of the Abreu Fellows program.   Thank you, Rebecca Levi, David Malek, and the entire CLCS staff for allowing your program to act as a lab where staff are encouraged to take risks and test new ideas in a safe and supportive environment.

      Wednesday, September 21, 2011

      JAMM's Short Documentary Film: Year One

      JAMM would like to thank the Association of Alaska School Boards (AASB) for their continued support and commitment to Alaska's youth.  This short film produced by AASB in partnership with  Lucid Reverie documents JAMM's successful first year.

      In May of 2011, JAMM received $24,000 from the Alaska School Boards' Initiative for Community Engagement (Alaska ICE) to support and expand its violin program for the 2011-2012 school year.  All 120 kindergartners and first graders will receive 90 minutes of violin instruction each week as part of their school day.

      Alaska ICE is an initiative funded by the US Dept. of Education to provide Alaskans with information, tools and assistance to work together and engage in the shared responsibility of preparing Alaska's children.  AASB supports the work of JAMM because it addresses the association's goals, all of which are aimed at increasing students success:
      1. Investing in early learning and school readiness skill,
      2. Developing social-emotional learning,
      3. Improving school climate and student and family connections to school,
      4. Engaging communities and parents, and
      5. Providing access to quality programs for all children
        Looking forward to another successful year and partnership!

      Thursday, September 15, 2011

      TEDx Homer: Returning to TED Alaskan style

      Years ago, a colleague sent me the link to Sir Ken Robinson's Ted Talk:  Schools Kill Creativity and I've been hooked on TED ever since.  Little did I know that a few years later, I would be directly involved with TED - helping them realize the wish of 2009 TED Prize Winner, Dr. Abreu.  This musician and economist wanted "to train fifty gifted young musicians, passionate for their art and social justice, and dedicated to develop El Sistema in the US and in other countries." The Abreu Fellowship was born.  I was honored to serve in this fellowship's first class and created this blog to document the fellowship and the work that followed here in Juneau.

      When I heard TED was holding a conference in Homer, Alaska, I wanted to be able to come full circle and share how a TED wish helped create an early childhood instrumental program for 120 kindergarten and 1st grade students in Alaska, called JAMM! Kat Haber, the TEDx Homer Coordinator, gladly accepted my request and helped with travel and lodging to get me there. 

      While in Homer, I had the delight and honor of staying in the home of Cherish McCallum, a private music teacher.   Both she and Kat are remarkable women who contribute above and beyond this Southeast community. 

      Cherish donates JAMM's first cello
      Here's just one example:

      When Cherish gave me a tour of her studio, she pointed to a small quarter-size violin and cello that her teenage daughter and son played when they were young.  "I've been looking for a home for these two instruments, where they'd give the same joy they gave my children.  I'd like to donate these to your program, JAMM."

      Thank you, Cherish.  

      Being involved in the TEDx Homer event was an incredible experience.  I met passionate people who make things happen in their communities.   My TED talk neared the end of the evening and I was nervous.  But throughout, I kept reminding myself that this talk is my heartfelt "thank you" to the TED community and to all of the people who believe in the power of music and the right for all children to have access to it.

      Thank you, Kat Haber, Aaron Suring, Bob Burns and Erin Hollowell, for helping me with my script and visuals.  Congratulations on a successful event!

      Speakers stand together on stage for the end the TEDx Homer event

      Monday, September 5, 2011

      Abreu Fellows Visit Juneau, Alaska Music Matters

      Abreu Fellows, Dan Berkowitz, Christine Witkowski and Alvaro Rodas, visit Juneau, Alaska Music Matters
      Christine, Alvaro and Dan, who graduated with me in the first class of Abreu Fellows, made their first trip to the Great White North to visit me and see JAMM in action!

      I had the honor of visiting their programs last year. At the Corona Youth Music Project in Queens, NY, Alvaro and his students shared their bucket band. And at YOLA at HOLA in Los Angeles, Dan and Christine gave me a glimpse of where our first graders might be in a year's time.

      Even though the weather wouldn't cooperate, JAMM did not disappoint. The Abreu Fellows' trip was timed perfectly to coincide with Glacier Valley's paper violin-making night for kindergarten families. Both HOLA and Corona Youth Music Project include paper violin as a pedagogical step for students to develop respect, care and discipline for the instrument while giving them time to safely practice motor skills needed to play the real instruments.

      Paper Violin Night at Glacier Valley Elementary School
      Alvaro adapted JAMM's paper violin process to make his violins in Corona, and Christine employed the creative skills of an HOLA staff artist to design theirs. Dan included both processes in a document called the Paper Violin Cookbook: Recipes for Learning from Juneau, Alaska Music Matters and Youth Orchestra at Heart of LA. The cookbook is available on the Los Angeles Philharmonic YOLA Resource webpage so that initiatives all over the world can learn from our experiences.

      The Abreu Fellows were a huge help that night, preparing materials, documenting the evening, translating for Spanish-speaking families and celebrating with our community the fact that we are part of a larger network. They also shared their perspective with a Juneau Empire reporter who wrote an article, Paper Violins Reach Worldwide.

      An in usual Glacier Valley fashion, staff cam out in full force to help both nights. We also had community volunteers join in the fun: former mayor, Sally Smith; and school board members, Kim Pool and Sally Sadler, built extra violins for violins for families who couldn't make it. Thank you everyone for your support.

      Alvaro teachers Bucket Band to Mr. Wyatt's 3rd grade class
      The kindergartners weren't the only ones who benefited from the Abreu Fellows' visit that week. Alvaro taught bucket band to the 3rd graders. Christine and Dan performed duets for several classes and gave after-school lessons for two of our 5th grade brass students. In between, the Abreu Fellows observed our 1st grade violin classes, 2nd grade folk dancing and 4th & 5th grade Humanities class where they joined our students for the Stick dance - a dance that has traveled to El Sitema programs in Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Scotland and Venezuela. Thank you, Michelle Quigg of World Music Drumming, for teaching this dance to me. Your gift has spread to hundreds of kids!

      Christine and Dan perform duets for Glacier Valley classes

      Aivine, Amy Bibb, Vaipuna, Dan & Christine rehearse after-school

      Before Christine, Dan and Alvaro left, they experienced being tourists and saw why Juneau is such and incredible place to live. Thank you, friends, for visiting JAMM and Juneau, my home!

      Visiting Mendenhall Glacier, the namesake of Glacier Valley Elementary School

      Thursday, September 1, 2011

      Swapping Fish Tales from Alaska to Maine

      4th grader, Aivine Soakai, plays bass for the play, Dear Fish
      Through a Kennedy Center Partners in Education Grant, Glacier Valley students partnered with Thunder Mountain High School and Deer Isle School in Maine to explore the fishing cultures of both communities using integrated technology, visual and performing arts. Research collected from trips out in the field and interviews with local fishermen formed the basis for a playwright performed by both elementary and high school students in April 2011.

      Music was very much a part of this performance including traditional sea shanties and classic rock songs to reflect the contemporary life of a fisherman.  Glacier Valley's own Rock Band played live for both performances here in Juneau, while many of their classmates took to the stage to act and sing alongside high school students.  This collaborative project hopefully will be the first of many to connect our elementary school students with its neighboring high school.  So far, the arts have proven to be a powerful way to make it happen. 

      Teaching Theatre Journal featured Dear Fish on the front cover of its 2011 summer issue.  The performance in April was well-received by both coastal communities.  Audience comments included, "I am an Alaskan fisherman.  It made me feel good to be recognized."  Another wrote, "The diversity of cutlrues, ages, and abilities brings tears to my eyes."

      Thank you, Annie Calkins, Dave Hunsaker, Ryan Conarro, and the entire Glacier Valley, Thunder Mountain and Juneau fishing communities.  This project helped both schools connect local issues to a more global perspective through the arts and technology. Students learned that even though they live on different coasts, they face similar issues, struggles, and celebrations and were able to personally express their learning through all of the arts.

      We're proud of our Glacier Valley kids ...

      Thursday, May 26, 2011

      Juneau Jazz & Classics and Community Day

      Juneau Jazz & Classics brings Awadagin Pratt to JAMM
      Juneau Jazz & Classics is celebrating its 25th year of "encouraging the appreciation of jazz, classical and blues music among people of all ages."  Every May for two weeks, this incredible organization under the leadership of Linda Rosenthal, brings jazz and classical musicians from all over the country to perform in Juneau.  Many of these artists visit schools to perform concerts, coach young musicians and share their enthusiasm for music.

      This year, Glacier Valley was honored to host two Jazz & Classics artists:  The Jasper Quartet and Awadagin Pratt.  Both were able to work with our kindergarten violinists.  They encouraged musicality, proper technique and performed right alongside them.  What made Awadagin's visit so special was that he specifically asked to work with the "music teacher in Juneau with the El Sistema nucleo." For the Juneau community, his request confirmed that JAMM is part of a recognized national network and that the work its doing is supported by others thousands of miles away.  Thank you, Awadagin.  Your gentle spirit and ability to connect with our kids made your visit a memorable one!

      JAMM performs for Community Day at the University of Alaska Southeast
       JAMM also gave Glacier Valley its first opportunity to participate in Juneau Jazz & Classics' Community Day.  This free all-day event held on the campus of the University of Alaska Southeast offers food, educational programs and musical performances.  Our kindergartners and 4th & 5th grade Morning Musicians performed in the beautiful Egan Library, which made our students' first visit to this college campus a welcoming one.  Again, we had an amazing turn-out by Glacier Valley families whom stayed after the concert to enjoy the rest of the festivities with their kids.

      Here's a short clip of them playing E String Concerto and Variations on Boil Them Cabbage Down.

      Thank you, Juneau Jazz & Classics, for bringing the community into the school and the school into the community.  Happy 25th Birthday!

      Sunday, May 15, 2011

      HeArt & Sole Ballroom Program Highlighted in DC

       While traveling to Washington, DC, for the National Teacher of the Year event, I had the opportunity to meet with folks from the US Department of Education.  They wanted to hear from teachers about how best to engage students, families, community and strengthen professional development for teachers.

      I was excited to share Glacier Valley's HeART & Sole Ballroom program, where P.E. and music teachers collaborate with librarian and counselor to offer all 3rd through 5th grade students two sessions/week of ballroom dancing under the leadership of Pat Belec, Juneau dance instructor.  This 8-week residency culminates in a performance of all 200 students who showcase their moves for the community and school.  Dance steps include meringe, swing, tango, fox trot and electric slide.   Twenty-four of them are selected through an audition process to perform two weeks later for the Juneau Douglas High School Dance Team Show. 

      Here's the link to the US Department of Education's blog posting of our program:  Waltzing Students to Fitness, Health and Rhythm.

      If you'd like to see them in action, the video of their performance, earning a standing ovation, is posted above.

      Thursday, May 5, 2011

      Delivering Paper Violins to Alaskan Senators in DC

      National Teacher of the Year Event at the White House with President Obama
      While waiting in line to meet the President of the United States, I wondered how much time I'd have to speak with him and what I would say.  For security reasons, the state teachers of the year could not carry anything with them when they entered the Oval Office for their photo with President Obama.  But if I could, I knew exactly what I'd present:  a paper violin carefully handmade by parents and students of our JAMM program.  It would be the perfect segue into a conversation about the importance of arts education.  In the few seconds that I had to shake the President's hand, I told him what an honor it was to meet him and to thank him personally for making children a national priority.  He thanked me for traveling such a long way.

      Here is President Obama's address in the Rose Garden before announcing Michelle Shearer as the 2011 National Teacher of the Year.  Michelle represents teachers' voices so well and tackles tough questions with intelligence, heart and determination. 

      I did get to spend a short time with Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and thanked him for keeping the arts on the national education agenda.  With so much focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), I encouraged him to include the arts as an equally important discipline.  Instead of STEM, advocate for STEAM!  He shared this wasn't an easy task, but is still trying.

      I am proud to say that both Alaskan Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski publicly support arts education.  They made time in their schedules to meet with me to hear about the arts initiatives happening at Glacier Valley Elementary School and about the effects these programs are having on our children socially, emotionally and academically.  Thank you both for your dedication and commitment to Alaska's children.  It was an honor to meet both of you!

      Senator Mark Begich

      Senator Lisa Murkowski

      Friday, April 22, 2011

      JAMM Performs for the Alaska Folk Festival

      Glacier Valley Elementary School is located in "the Valley," which is only ten miles away from downtown Juneau.  But distance is relative and in a community with only 40 miles of road, ten miles can seem like worlds apart.   As the music teacher at Glacier Valley, I learned early on that very few of our students took advantage of the Alaska Folk Festival.  This music  festival showcases local and national musicians throughout the week at no cost, but ... it's located downtown. 

      This year, JAMM changed that when it was accepted as a musical act to perform for the festival's family concert.  Both violin and guitar club program collaborated for this concert with 4th & 5th grade guitarists learning the chords to accompany the kindergartners' violin pieces.   With buses available to transport musicians and their families to the event, we had an incredible turn-out! 

      As we crammed onto the mainstage, I shared with the audience JAMM's hope to have 120 violinists performing here at this time next year.  You should have heard the applause!

      Here is a short clip of our students playing a folk festival favorite - Boil Them Cabbage Down.  I also included our exit song, which I learned from James Hill, one of thes author of Ukulele in the Classroom.  He played the ukulele at this year's NAMM conference in Anaheim.  The whole audience joined in and then he added When the Saints Go Marching In as a partner song.  Here are the lyrics:

      Up above my head,
      There's music in the air.
      Up above my head,
      There's music in the air.
      Up above my head,
      There's music in the air.
      I really do believe,
      It's aheadin' somewhere. 

       Thank you, Glacier Valley community for supporting this event.  Music brings people together and on this day you helped bridge two communities.  "I really do believe we're a-headin' somewhere."

      JAMM performs with the Glacier Valley Guitar Club at the 2011 Alaska Folk Festival (photo: Klas Stolpe, Juneau Empire)