Sunday, January 30, 2011

Alaska Administrators' Arts Retreat at Glacier Valley

Glacier Valley Elementary School was selected as one of two Alaskan schools to host this year's Administrators' Arts Retreat: Growing Art Education Leaders for Alaska. Thirty-five administrators, principals and superintendents from all over the state visited Glacier Valley to learn first-hand how we integrate the arts to help motivate and engage our students, while building a positive school climate.

This event occurred the same week that I was in Dallas attending the Teacher of the Year conference, but was left in the very capable hands of an incredible team of Glacier Valley staff, parents, sponsors and students who packed in just a few short hours:
  • visits to classrooms showcasing arts-integrated lessons,
  • tour of artwork exhibited throughout the hallways,
  • observation of the performing arts in Humanities class (photo below), and
  • lunch and panel discussion with key constituents of our Art is Elementary program

Performing Arts as Part of GV's Humanities Class (photo by Bethany Vaughn)

Our guests also found the interaction with our Student Ambassadors to be one of the highlights of the morning (see photo below).  Eighteen 4th and 5th graders were selected for their leadership qualities and participation in many of the arts activities offered at Glacier Valley.  As part of their preparation for this prestigious role, students practiced handshakes, eye contact and greetings at the door.  Mrs. Sielbach, our librarian and arts integration specialist, gave them tours of the artwork exhibited throughout the halls so that they could speak knowledgeably about both visual art elements and integrated core subjects.  Students practiced at home and came to school dressed in their best attire, ready to escort our guests from room to room, answer any questions and proudly share personal anecdotes of why the arts are an important part of their school day.

Student Ambassadors Greet Visiting Administrators (photo by Bethany Vaughn
Here are some of the journal reflections from the administrators about their time at Glacier Valley:

I would be so proud to be the leader in a school like GV.  The enthusiasm from teachers and students alike, the collaboration, passion - just a few of the things I will strive to promote and support. The development of community relations was so powerful. 
At GV I saw: 
  •  75 kids engaged in rhythm dancing under control, without the need of adult redirection
  • teachers relying on each other, who had obviously prepared
  • lots of extra people helping out
  • parents at the forefront of the program
  • A principal allowing to let the control move among his staff
  • lots of smiles and serious engagement

Thank you to Bethany Vaughn, a parent at Glacier Valley, who donated her time by photographing the entire event.  A slide show of her work and the day's events are posted above.  Also, thank you, Susie Denton, Katrina Laneville, Susan Sielbach and Ted Wilson for leading the charge!

Glacier Valley Student Ambassadors pose with Principal, Ted Wilson

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Visiting B Sharp in Ft. Worth, Texas

The teaching staff at the El Sistema-inspired B Sharp program in Ft. Worth, Texas

While attending the National Teacher of the Year conference in Dallas, I was able to visit the newly established B Sharp program in Ft. Worth, Texas.   This El Sistema-inspired program began in October, 2010 and offers ten hours of weekly music instruction as an after-school program for first grade students at Como Elementary School.  The students rotate through four classes including bucket band, choir, musicianship and violin instruction.  I was particularly interested in visiting this program because of its public school partnership and the after-school component for 1st graders. 

Funded by the Goff Foundation, B Sharp's mission is to "bring about social change using ensemble music as the tool to build individuals and communities."  The program's director, Osvaldo Mendoza, worked with the ORCHKids program in Baltimore and developed a youth orchestra in Juarez, Mexico before heading up B Sharp in August.  Currently, the program enrolls about 40 students.

Osvaldo and the teaching staff had kindly altered their Friday sessions so that I could observe all four classes in one day.  In that 2-hour time period, I saw incredible teaching and along with it, engaged students.  Many of El Sistema's fundamentals were present in the different sessions, including joyful music-making.

For example, in the musicianship class, Robert Winckel had his kids on the edge of their seats playing the game, SoLaMi (at first, I thought it was "Salami!") where the class had to identify melodic patterns that contained a so-la-mi sequence.  He also used his wedding ring as "moveable do" as he placed it between his fingers, now representing a musical staff.  This entire activity was presented as a magic trick, which he encouraged his students to do at home :) 

Amanda Vessels, who teaches bucket band, instantly motivated her students with this one comment: "I'm looking for teachers."  She kept the lessons playful, but always with a positive discipline that demanded focus from the students and respect for proper drumming technique.  Amy Jines used movement in her choir by exploring vocal pitch through a ball toss. 

Afterward, Osvaldo and Jill Goff from the Goff Foundation treated me to dinner where we had a chance to talk all things El Sistema.  After living and breathing it for one year as an Abreu Fellow, it was re-energizing to be able to sit down with folks who held the same interest and passion for this work.  We inspired one another and plan to stay connected as we continue growing our programs.  Thank you, Jill, Osvaldo and the entire B Sharp teaching staff for welcoming me into your classrooms.  You are doing great work!

Standing with Jill Goff and Osvaldo Mendoza

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Coming Full Circle: Franz Felkl Visits JAMM

Thirteen years ago, Franz Felkl visited my classroom at the Juneau Community Charter School.  He was only six years old at the time and was taking violin lessons with Guohua Xia,  who is now JAMM's string director.   I had just arrived in Juneau and was given the opportunity to help develop the school's curriculum - one that integrated the arts. 

I wanted all twenty of my 3rd, 4th & 5th grade students to have violin lessons as part of their school day.  Fortunately, Mr. Xia agreed to be their teacher.  He took a huge leap of faith with me that year!  It was the first time either one of us had led such a large class.  Little did we know that this newly-formed teaching relationship would continue to grow and meet even greater challenges with sixty kindergartners at Glacier Valley's JAMM program years later.

Franz performed for my kids that year and helped inspire a very successful instrumental program that continues today.  Mr. Xia and I knew back then how talented Franz was.  I remember how shocked the students were when he told them that he hadn't missed a day of practice, even on vacation when he traveled on the ferry!

Franz is now 20 years old and is currently pursuing a Music Education degree at University of Alaska Fairbanks.  When he returned to Juneau for winter break, I invited him to work with our kindergartners and do what he did thirteen years ago:  perform and inspire a young generation of musicians.  He did just that. 

Here is a short video clip documenting the magic spell that Franz cast over Mrs. Steininger's kindergarten class.  Franz, knowing that you started violin at the same age with the same teacher gives our kindergartners a sense of what they too can accomplish!    It is an honor to see you come full circle - from student to music teacher.   Already, you've become a great teacher.  Thank you again! 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

JAMM in January - Continuing to Inspire While Tackling the Basics

Mr. Xia's Chamber Ensemble, Aurora Strings, performs for our JAMM violinists before Winter Break

Even though JAMM had used the paper violins to teach and reinforce bow and violin holding skills during the fall semester, Mr. Xia knew that the transference of these skills onto the real violin might take some time.  In order to keep our kindergartners inspired while focusing on these important details, Mr. Xia invited his younger chamber ensemble, Aurora Strings, to perform at our school before winter break. 

During the performance, it was fascinating to observe how much more discerning our kindergarten audience had become since the beginning of the year.  They no longer sat in pure amazement, but rather watched as musical peers - studying each bow stroke, comparing violin stances and looking ahead to finger placement on the fingerboard.  Their comments reflected their own understanding of playing as a group - "I noticed how your bows all went in the same direction."  They saw how much Tazer had progressed since performing for them at the beginning of the school year.  This performance also carried much more significance and respect from our JAMM violinists. They sat as an audience knowing how much practice time is required to prepare for a concert and appreciated how long the Aurora Strings could stand and hold up their violins!

Returning from winter break, our kindergartners walked into violin class with a confidence and pride.  They were playing A String Concerto with long bow, holding up their violins for a class count to 100 and could identify which string Mr. Xia played on his violin with over 80% accuracy!  They learned how to place their fingers on each fingerboard tape.  The conductor of the Juneau Symphony had even paid them a special visit to see this up and coming group of young orchestra members.  They were invited to play alongside the Juneau Youth Symphony in March, and the youth symphony's director, Rick Trostel, had written a composition specially for them, called Life of the Child. They were playing music! 

Students in Ms. Hickmann's class practice making a box before placing their first finger on the tape.
With this new-found confidence came a testing of boundaries.  For example, during Mr. Xia's instructions, students would sit on the floor with their violins in front of them.  They learned the routine of "spiders in your lap" or hands in your lap to help resist the temptation of touching the violins and it worked. But now that their violins made sound, several of our students began plucking the strings while Mr. Xia talked.  When a reminder didn't work, all it took was a warning that their violin would be replaced with a paper one until their hands learned to stay in their laps and the plucking immediately stopped.  Little did I know that the paper violin would serve so many purposes:  pedagogical tool, behavioral motivator and community builder.  Thank you, Josbel and the incredible teaching staff at Nucleo La Rinconada in Caracas, for sharing your paper violin process with us.

Kim Poole, JAMM volunteer extraordinaire, checks Amira's finger position

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

World Music Drumming Summer Workshops

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to attend three World Music Drumming workshops to help prepare me for the start-up of our JAMM program.  I attended
  1. Pittsburgh, PA:  Drumming Up the Fun! (ages 3 - 8) with Melissa Blum 
  2. Oconomowoc, WI:  Kids, Choir and Drums Mix It Up with Lynn Brinckmeyer
  3. Portland, OR:  Level II Drumming with Kofi Gbolonyo
Each workshop gave me a slew of ideas and practical applications that I could use immediately in the classroom for ages 5 and up.  Drumming, dance and song are a part of every workshop, and Will Schmid and his staff make learning at any level accessible and fun.  The video posted above includes highlights from all of the workshops that World Music Drumming offers, including Marimba.  Click on this link to download World Music Drumming Summer Workshops 2011.

Thank you, Will Schmid and the entire teaching staff at World Music Drumming, for providing such a rich music curriculum!