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 ...