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News: Students Experience Urban Music Education (Interim 2007)

Six Calvin students spent Interim 2007 teaching in the Grand Rapids Public Schools as part of a class on Teaching Music in Urban Schools led by Assistant Professor of Music Phillip Hash. In addition to work on campus, participants were placed in a music classroom where they assisted teachers with band, chorus, and general music. This course was intended to help students develop an understanding of the unique challenges associated with urban education, examine classroom management strategies used in urban schools, and learn to overcome obstacles to teaching music with limited resources. Students also reflected on the Christian music educator's role as agents of change in the urban education.

Because funding for music in the GRPS is a major issue, students wrote grant proposals for the programs in which they were working. This money will be used to purchase basic supplies and equipment and invite guest conductors to lead rehearsals and clinics. Potential funding sources include local Target Stores and the Chely Wright Reading, Writing and Rhythm Foundation.

Students' beliefs about urban education were challenged through daily journal reflections and essays addressing various topics encountered in the classroom.

One student commented, "Before this class…I thought the teachers all did not want to be there, that it was the only job they could find and it was like a transition job for them. I thought that the students all have bad attitudes and misbehaved all the time, and are very difficult to keep under control in the classroom, too. All of these assumptions have changed for me. Through the schools we have observed and talked about in class, these assumptions I had were proved wrong."

Another student said, "This experience has opened my eyes to the problems of education in America . I knew that our education system was in trouble before observing in the local school and taking this class, but now I'm more aware of the needs of music education specifically. Music teachers can find it difficult to focus on their real purpose (educating kids) because of the extra-musical worries that pile up, in part due to a lack of funding and support."

Although students experienced the challenges of urban education first hand, they also came in contact with some of Grand Rapids' finest and most dedicated teachers. One student summarized the work of her mentor this way: "After talking with my mentor for a few weeks I learned that there are many challenges that she has to overcome in order to have a successful band and choir program. She is a teacher that does her best everyday to teach her students even though they do not have the best resources. She makes sure that they learn and that they do their best."

Students in this course included Kara Berkenpas (Senior - Elem. Ed.), Kim Bixler (Junior - Elem. Ed.), Lee Heyer (Junior - Music Ed.), Will Karsten (Junior - Music Ed.), Sarah Looman (Junior - Music Ed.), and Heather Stehouwer (Senior - Elem. Ed.). The class would also like to thank music teachers Tim DeYoung, Ella Morgan, Paul Schroeder, and Sonja Schultz, as well as Julie Powell - Director of Fine Arts and Physical Education for the Grand Rapids Public Schools.