Central Elementary School – South Berwick

July 19, 2012

A real happening!

Thank you to music educator Kate Smith for providing this blog post. It is a wonderful example of a powerful service learning project directed by the arts!

Summertime means comfortable sandals, marinated steak tips on the grill, a cold margarita in hand and time to reflect on the school year. In the process of reflecting, I realized I am long overdue on a blog post I promised Argy. 

In early 2010, Bill Page, a community member, approached me with a problem, “Hey Kate, do you think the students could help me convince the town that Powderhouse Hill is a really important part of our community?” (I should pause and explain: Powderhouse Hill is a town-owned ski area with a total of three trails and 175 feet of vertical elevation and is completely volunteer run. Visitors pay $5 to ski and snowboard and are pulled up the hill on a tow rope powered by a 5 cylinder engine. It’s a super place for beginners, but the town was getting concerned about rising insurance costs and was considering shutting down the hill).  I was touched that he would turn to the music teacher for help, and I was determined to follow through. I brought the concern to my arts team and a service project was born.

What we did
Week 1: We began with  a discussion about Powderhouse Hill to activate students’ prior knowledge and inform new students. In the music room, we wrote poems or lyrics to express our love for Powderhouse Hill, some students added notation. Then we asked the overarching question, “How can we convince the town that Powderhouse Hill is an important part of our community?” Students chose the art form they would prefer when answering this question, indicating their first and second choices. They could chose: music, art, movement (physical education) or writing (library).

Week 2: The students were now divided into groups according to their preferred art form. Instead of a regular special week, in which they would see each specialist for one day and have a no special day, the student went to their assigned art form group each day (music for four days, for instance). On the fifth day, we had a museum walk. Two students stayed as presenters, while the rest of the students rotated to hear how each group answered the same question. We presented our ideas/final projects to Bill and the audience at the third grade concert. It was met with a standing ovation for both Bill and the students.

The final products
The music group wrote and recorded a song with local songwriter, Sammie Haynes, using the poems and lyrics they had written as their inspiration. We then taught the song to the rest of the third grade and sang it at our third grade concert. The art group painted 7 foot high wooden skiis to be displayed at Powderhouse Hill. The movement group took photos and made posters to show safe ways to ski, snowboard and sled. They had hoped to walk to the hill and make videos, but the weather was not conducive. The library group researched the history of Powderhouse Hill and created a display for the town hall and brochures for the town businesses.

What we found
The students took ownership of the project (as a true service learning project should). Each final product was unique and reflected the students’ learning styles. Students were engaged, for many it was their favorite special all week long! The teachers were thrilled for a multitude of reasons including one we hadn’t foreseen. In a typical week, the third grade classes see us in two different time blocks. For this project, we arranged for them to all come during the same block, which meant some of our groups were pretty big (the music group had over 40 students) but it also meant the third grade team had common planning time all week (yay for them!) and we had extra planning time due to the combined classes (yay for us!). The most important part- the parents and community LOVED it and the students LOVED sharing it. What a wonderful model for sharing the amazing power of the Arts!

Kate Smith is a music teacher at Central Elementary School, a preK-3 school in South Berwick. 


  1. What a great project! Of course, I expect nothing less than a great project with Kate at the helm. I love that they started with an essential question and all of their work helped them construct an answer to that question. This is a wonderful example of how students can use the arts to help solve a community problem.

  2. Yes, those who know Kate are aware of her leadership skills. The evidence is clear that she understands how to and knows the value of bringing the school and community together. The arts make this is win-win for all parties and the biggest winner are the students! Thanks Barb for commenting on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: