Music builds confidence, creativity in District 39
Sixth- graders Joe Huang (center), 11, and Micah Bowe, 12, beat the drums with classmates during a general music showcase at Highcrest Middle School in Wilmette on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2012. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
WHAT: Music education
WHERE: Wilmette School District 39
FOR WHO: K-8 students
Updated: February 19, 2013 11:58AM
WILMETTE — The sixth grade students performing in Pam Valerio’s general music showcase last week didn’t often stand in neat rows when they showed an appreciative audience what they’ve been learning about melody, rhythm, and the universality of music.
Instead, the Highcrest Middle School students performed percussion pieces they helped write, and danced and moved in rhythms inspired by the sights and sounds of nature. They played recorders, executed surprisingly difficult English folk dances, completed African drumming pieces and sang folk song canons.
Wilmette School District 39 music educators say that diversity is part of their educational mission.
“We want to give students an enjoyment of music, and an understanding of why they like it, and at the same time we want to create the best musician each student can be,” music department head Tina Honore said Jan. 9. “Hopefully, they will use the skills they’ve learned with us to appreciate music in whatever path they take in life, whether that’s as a consumer of music or someone who makes music.”
Youngsters are introduced to music early in the district; they have one class a week in kindergarten, and twice weekly in first through fourth grades. The district uses the hands-on learning strategies of music educators Karl Orff and Zoltan Kodaly – students learn by doing, finding rhythm and music in their daily activities, in addition to playing percussion and wind instruments like drums and recorders.
Once students reach middle school, fifth-grade students receive daily music instruction for seven weeks before going on to other fine arts education. Sixth-graders get eight weeks. Honore said teachers introduce them to music of many cultures, echoing the multicultural learning experiences they have in other classes.
The classes promote diversity, Valerio said, adding “when you get to sing folks songs from around the world in different languages ... you help to maintain cultures and build bridges between them.”
Middle school students can also take part in extra-curricular chorus, band and orchestra activities; Honore estimated that up to 65 percent of fourth-grade students choose to do so when they enter fifth grade. Many of them continue in sixth grade.
In junior high, the music program changes. Students can choose classes in chorus, musical theater, band or orchestra.
Honore said her team of 12 teachers works hard to integrate what their program does with what other district educators are doing in their classrooms. They also work closely with counterparts at New Trier High School.
By the time youngsters reach their final years in District 39, many have become polished performers in concert and jazz groups that regularly win awards and play for audiences locally and around the state. Honore credited district administrators and parents with supporting the programs.
Sixth-grade student Riley Needham already sees music as part of his life. He said last week he takes part in Highcrest’s chorus and band programs. He plays the drums and said becoming a musician might be in his future. Riley’s mom Jennifer Bertacchi, who watched her son perform in Valerio’s showcase, called the district’s music program phenomenal.
That response would be gratifying to Valerio, who said music gives students a sense of belonging and camaraderie, often at times when they most need relief from insecurity.
“Music offers us a chance to build our confidence, to express ourselves through creativity. And that’s a human right we all have.”