October 23, 2017 - Sierra Foothill Charter School has a robust music program for its students that begins in transitional kindergarten and continues through eighth grade. Music is a very important component of the SFCS curriculum.
“There is an abundance of research that shows learning music facilitates learning across subject matter in a variety of ways,” said Principal/Superintendent Mindy Bolar. “We embrace that at SFCS and want our students to experience the benefits starting in the youngest grades.”
Music Instructor Gail Vanderslik teaches percussion to Chelsea Stillwell’s transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students. Facing forward: Tennessee Blagg, Valentin Telles-Trujillo, Vanderslik, Zander Baumann, Colin Jensen, Chloe Sheets, and Lillan Engstrom. Facing the opposite direction, also visible are Zarya Land, Kade Videgain, and Spencer Eastwood.
Music instructor Gail Vanderslik teaches percussion instruments to transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students once a week. Vanderslik is certified in the pedagogical principles and methodology of German Composer Carl Orff. The Orff approach combines elements of speech, rhythm, movement, dance, and song. Children learn through doing, exploring, and improvising.
“Teaching rhythm with the Orff methodology is perfect for students this age,” says Vanderslik. “It allows them to be active participants, which they love. And learning rhythm through the use of percussion instruments such as sticks, glockenspiels, and xylophones sets the foundation for their future steps along the path of learning music.”
Because of their size and ease of use, recorders are a great instrument for first and second graders to learn to play. Here, Vanderslik guides Wendy Baumann’s class, including (back row) Olivia English, Lily Edwards, Ginger Jensen, [front row] Owen Eastwood, Melody Neimier, Clyde Bell, and Sawyer Newman.
When students reach first and second grades, Vanderslik teaches them how to play recorders, which are also part of the Orff methodology.
“Even very inexpensive recorders can make a nice sound,” said Vanderslik. “They are a good size for children’s small hands. And all you have to do to make a sound is blow through them, making them very accessible for students to learn how to use.”
Students make great progress with the recorders, playing a few simple songs by the school’s Winter Program performances and more complex ones by the end of the year.
“I have a system where students earn colored pieces of yarn to tie onto the ends of their recorders,” said Vanderslik, “similar to what is done in the martial arts with belts. Students can become black belts on their recorders. It’s great incentive to keep them practicing and it gives them such a sense of pride every time they earn the next level of color.”
Teena Starchman’s third and fourth grade students start the school year reviewing percussion before moving on to their ukuleles. Here is a picture from the second half of last school year with Starchman instructing a small group of students in ukuleles, including (visible faces) Weston Frazer and Zander Greco.
Once students reach third and fourth grade, teacher Teena Starchman takes over for a while. Starchman took a Guitars in the Classroom course from local teacher and musician Gail Dreifus and was hooked on the ukulele.
“The GITC program that Gail teaches is wonderful,” said Starchman. “I not only learned how to play the guitar and ukulele, but I learned how to select and even create songs that fit into my third and fourth grade lessons. My students love it.”
In November 2015, Starchman received a grant from the Mariposa Community Foundation that allowed her to purchase multiple ukuleles.
“They are hanging in my classroom,” said Starchman. “When I break my students into groups for music rotations, each student gets a ukulele which makes teaching and learning so much easier for me and for them. It is wonderful.”
Generally, starting in fourth grade, students also have the opportunity to take a music elective and play either band instruments, violin, guitar, or piano with Vanderslik. Students below the fourth grade who have prior experience are able to try out for one of these music rotations as well.
In addition to band instruments, SFCS students are able to choose instruction from Gail Vanderslik in either guitar, violin, or piano. Here is Sage Inman learning guitar.
“I have two first graders and three second graders in the piano rotation with me,” said Vanderslik. “In guitar, I have some third graders. If I feel they can handle the curriculum, I make exceptions for them.”
“It’s great that SFCS offers more than band instruments,” said Vanderslik. “Students have such a variety of interests and SFCS makes it possible for them to pursue them at school. Given the school’s size, I am really impressed that we have twenty-six students participating in the elective program.”
The interest in instruments continues after SFCS. Many former SFCS students who have matriculated to high school are now playing instruments in the Mariposa County High School band.
The most recent addition to SFCS’s music offerings comes from Dan Croft, the school’s bus driver who is also a talented musician. He is donating his time to lead a Glee Club. The new club started on Friday, October 6, with many students interested in singing and some interested in incorporating instruments. The club will continue to meet most Fridays.
“It is a privilege to foster student creativity, and I enjoy the opportunity to share together musically with our newly formed Glee Club,” said Croft. “We look forward to performing for others in the future."
It is apparent that SFCS students are not only getting the cross curricular benefits of music that research points to, but they are gaining a genuine love for a wide variety of music that they can continue to pursue and enjoy their whole lives.
For more information on what researchers say are the benefits of music, go to: pbs.org/parents/education/music-arts/the-benefits-of-music-education.
Sierra Foothill Charter School is a free, non-profit, TK-8 public school. Seats are currently available in grades TK, 4, 7, and 8. For more information, contact the office at (209) 742-6222 or visit SFCS’s website: SierraFoothillCharterSchool.org. To stay up to date on all the latest happenings, “like” SFCS on Facebook.