Barrett Jackson, string specialist, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia
Sandra McGary-Ervin, principal, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia
Sylvia Bookhardt, music teacher, Smith Renaissance School of the Arts, Denver, Colorado
Q. What guidance would you suggest for other teachers confronted with a profusion of standards for a particular specialty?
A. As a first-year teacher in a public school driven by standards, I felt overwhelmed by the number of standards. What I have realized is that I was simply not familiar with them and was meeting more of the standards than I originally realized. Through continual review of the standards and my lessons, I was able to incorporate more standards into each lesson and identify ones I didnt realize I had been meeting.
Q. Would you describe how you teach music vocabulary words to your students?
A. Music vocabulary in the violin class is taught through immersion. Students are taught the correct names of parts of the instrument and other music vocabulary through constant use and exposure. They are given many opportunities to use the words during each lesson.
Q. How do you assess students who are at different proficiency levels?
A. The violin program is not performance-based. Students are assessed on conduct and participation. Their level of proficiency does not factor into their grades. Concepts and topics are rotated on a quarterly basis, so both a student new to the program and one who has three years of experience can achieve the same success.
Q. How are students selected for honors violin class?
A. Students are selected for the honors violin class by audition each spring. Every student is allowed to audition and given a score based on eight aspects of violin performance. The top 20 to 25 students then are invited to join the group. Returning members also must audition each year.
Q. What makes the honors class different from regular violin class? What kinds of performances do the honors students give?
A. The honors class is performance-based, unlike a regular violin class, and the standards are rigorous. Honors violin students have participated in school theatrical productions and performed for other schools, community-based events, and private functions, including the African-American Women on Tour, Boys and Girls Club regional meeting, and the Atlanta chapter of the Grammys Holiday event. The students recently recorded and released their first compact disc.
Q. How does the music program contribute to the mission of the school?
A. The violin program is a brain-based program that contributes to meeting
the schools goal of building literacy. Literacy is incorporated
in the violin class by the use of word walls, power writing, thinking
maps, and note books.
Q. Why was violin selected for all students at the school to study? Were other instruments considered?
A. The violin is a very appropriate instrument for study in elementary school due to the number of sizes in which it is produced. It offers students the opportunity to use opposing movements while playing. In addition, the violin is an instrument that requires a considerable amount of discipline. It is an instrument that defines excellence. Therefore, the violin blended well with Harmony Leland's idea of high standards and excellence, which we have made a high priority. To my knowledge, no other instruments were considered.
Q. Was there already a string specialist at Harmony Leland prior to the violin program? Do the parents have to pay anything for their children to participate in the general violin program?
A. There was no string specialist at Harmony Leland prior to the beginning of the program. There is no cost involved for parents, except for any major repair needed as a result of damage caused at home under the parents supervision.
Q. What happens to students who transfer into Harmony Leland in the middle of the year? Similarly, what if a student does not want to study the violin?
A. Students who transfer into the school in the middle of the year are assigned a violin and placed with a class. Due to the nature of the course objective, newcomers can easily catch up with the rest of the group, because the violin program is not performance-based. We have never had a student refuse to attend violin classes.
Q. What honors arts classes are offered at Harmony Leland Elementary?
A. We offer eight honors classes: honors art for grades K2, honors art for grades 35, honors Orff [music] for grade 3, honors violin for grades 12, honors violin for grades 35, honors handbells for grades 35, honors chorus for grades 35, and honors percussion for grades 45. We recently added dance to the after-school program.
Q. How do honors programs differ from regular classes in those subjects? How often do honors classes meet?
A. The honors classes are primarily performance-based. During the week, a student will attend each regular arts class once. For the honors classes, most classes meet every day for an extended time, allowing the students to excel in the arts, and to prepare and perform as professional musicians and artists.
Honors violin for grades 35, Orff for grade 3, honors percussion for grades 45 and honors art for grades 35 meet daily from 7:30 to 8 a.m. before academic instruction. Chorus, art for grades K2, and handbells meet once a week for an hour called Art Hour, which is a schoolwide hour devoted to creating art.
Q. Is there a group performance for honors students?
A. We have brought students together to perform as an honors family, bringing all programs together for a performance. All students have the opportunity to view the artwork from honors art and to listen to all honors music programs. It is very exciting to view and listen to our honors students as a family of 130. All programs perform for family and friends at our Holiday Extravaganza and other performance venues throughout the year.
Q. How are students selected for honors programs?
A. Students are selected through an audition process. Criteria for classes differ. Posture, presentation, technique, pitch, and tone are examples of what a student must demonstrate.
Q. Are there additional financial and other commitments associated with being in an honors class?
A. When a student is accepted into the honors class, the parent and
student sign a contract that commits the student to the program for the
entire year. The parent or student is responsible for paying a $20 fee
per honors class. Since there is no music or art budget, this fee covers
field trips, uniform rental, uniform cleaning, music, and any necessary
supplies for that class. Instruments used in class have been purchased
or made by Harmony Leland Elementary School.
Q. Why did you become a music teacher? What has been the most satisfying part of your experience?
A. I became a music teacher as a result of childhood exposure and experience. Music has always been my first love. It was also my first way of learning. In retrospect, I struggled as a new student. Everything was quite foreign to me in first grade. I persevered as a reader by teaching myself. I developed rhythm schemes, patterns, and devices that involved chants and other musical elements. This is how I practiced reading. It became apparent that I was the best teacher for my own learning.
I realized then that there was an educational connection with music: Use of my ears was essential! Because my vision was weak, my ears offered support. For me, music and literacy always have been combined. I became a teacher with a specific focus in those two areas, and my training was an alignment of those areas.
Q. Please describe your role as an arts coordinator at Smith Renaissance. How did this fit in with the rest of your responsibilities?
A. I ran schoolwide programs that matched the pacing of our curriculum. During my time as arts coordinator, I was determined to build tradition into school celebrations. In other words, I was able to synthesize learning by blending traditional themes into an overall program. A major challenge was involving parents, but that dwindled as mothers and fathers became more interested in becoming part of this success.
I viewed my major job responsibility as connecting academic pieces to all performances. Students took part in literacy exercises and projects that required parents to take them to the library, museum, and community resources. I became aware that we had to maintain a calendar for the entire school. The dates on the calendar were important, as total school inclusion was essential. These responsibilities fit with my teaching because they all pointed in the direction of learning enrichment.
Q. Can you give some examples of how the music program has enhanced academic achievement for students?
A. Building on the music program, opportunities in writing spurred additional research. Students used resources in the school library. Listening exercises added to group participation in project-based activities.
Students were invited to present in several district and citywide programs. They often wrote about their field trips and identified concepts in reading. A study of music history added to their involvement in the district Shakespeare Festival. Students shared new vocabulary terms in oral and written presentations. They showed a willingness to take on new responsibilities and risks. Interest escalated as students began to apply to the Denver School of the Arts.
Students leaving Smith Renaissance today have gone on to community choirs,
dance studios, and other arenas for the arts. It has been noted that academic
goals in math and reading are reflected in test scores.
© Annenberg Foundation 2013. All rights reserved. Legal Policy.