Archive for the ‘story’ Category

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Remembering Jason Anderson

October 23, 2022

Maine has lost an arts education champion

We are fortunate in Maine to have had many arts education giants over the years. Some at the local level, leading conversations, at the regional level providing leadership and at the state level influencing conversations and policy. This week Maine arts educators lost a champion, an individual who had experience in all three arenas. Jason Anderson, age 41, passed away much too early. At the beginning of his career he taught music for 14 years in Vermont and Maine. His teaching experience plus his graduate degree in curriculum and instruction prepared him well for his employment at the Maine Department of Education (DOE). Jason started at the DOE not long before the outbreak of Covid and he rose to the challenges and provided multiple opportunities, clear communication and supported educators in every way possible. His ongoing work was done with enthusiasm and he was totally committed. Jason was greatly appreciated and will be missed!

Jason’s funeral is on Saturday, October 29, 10:00 a.m. at the Military St. Baptist Church, 308 Military St., Houlton. His obituary can be found at THIS LINK.

Jason Anderson
December 21, 1980 – October 19, 2022
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Music Educator Rebecca Edmondson

July 19, 2022

Hancock County Teacher of the Year

Please join me in congratulating Music Educator Rebecca Edmondson who is the 2022 Hancock County Teacher of the Year. Rebecca teaches at Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor. Next week, Rebecca will join her colleagues, who along with her, have been named Semi-Finalist for the 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year. All 8 Semi-Finalists will be providing a presentation which is the next step in the process. Below is Rebecca’s story that will provide her history and her journey to this point in her life. The writing is her own, I’m sure you’ll hear Rebecca’s voice. Her commitment to education, her students, and the community of Bar Harbor is commendable!

CONGRATULATIONS Rebecca Edmondson

Tell us your story, what led you to this moment Rebecca?

Teaching was a way of life in my home. My grandmother, mother, and numerous cousins were teachers or administrators. They shared stories that provided warm and delightful chatter at the supper table. It got my attention! At that point, I began dreaming of becoming a teacher.

It was my mother who impacted my decision on becoming a music teacher. She taught music for twenty-eight years and we always had instruments laying around our home just waiting to be played. 

Edmondson piping at the Town Pier in Bar Harbor to welcome the Queen Elizabeth II on her maiden voyage.

During my high school years, I wanted a taste of teaching so I gave private music lessons to beginners. That was it! I knew that I wanted to continue to have a positive impact on young learners. From then on, I devote my life to teaching. Teaching comes naturally. Music is my life. Teaching music is my forte! 

My music education began at age five with learning the piano because I wanted to be just like my older sister so I begged my mother for lessons! Mrs. Frisk was our piano teacher and prepared us both for college auditions. She had even taught my mother when she was young! In her younger years, she played for silent films and I thought that was really cool.  

Edmondson at piano for community production of “Clue,” literally playing the part of Professor Plum, the murderer at the piano, at The Grand Theater in Ellsworth.

In fifth grade, I discovered the oboe and loved it! A few years later, I began private lessons from Dr. Dicicco at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I always studied under the best instructors and was classically trained. During my teen years, folk music and instruments captured my heart and I was compelled to play the Great Highland Bagpipes! I spent summers on the shores of the St.Lawrence Seaway with a hundred other pipers, receiving instruction from world class pipers Seumas MacNeil, Angus MacLellan, and Iain MacFadyen from Scotland. These inspiring teachers will always have a special place in my heart.

During my high school years, on Saturdays, I traveled over the mountain to play oboe in the Johnstown Youth Symphony and on Sundays I ventured into the big city to pipe in the Pittsburgh Scots Pipe Band. It was the best of both worlds – classical and folk!

Several of Rebecca’s Conners Conners Elementary School violin students

My formal education includes earning my Bachelor of Science in Music Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). I expanded my education and earned my Elementary Education Certification from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania and from there, I was placed as a program Reading Specialist Graduate Assistant back at IUP when suddenly I received a call for a music teaching interview and was hired on the spot. So many opportunities presented themselves in that year and shortly after my teaching career began, I married Bill and in the next few years our children were born. Life was good!

Then one day, Bill said that it was time to make the move to Maine that he had been dreaming of for years. I cried. I had a beautiful home, loving children, and my dream job. I did not want to move, especially 800 miles away, however, I put on a happy face and packed us up. Upon moving to Maine my current teaching position became available and we built our home on the beautiful Mount Desert Island! I have been enjoying a wonderful life near Acadia National Park and a successful teaching career at the Conners Emerson School since 1990! Life was good again. 

Fifth grade dulcimers created by students

My education continued, earning my Master of Music in Music Education degree from the University of Maine at Orono. I continue to enjoy learning new music and instruments. Harp and accordion are my newest additions! Teaching and music has created opportunities to bond friendships that endure to this day and I love to perform for community events. It brings a smile to my face when I fondly remember my Dad saying, “With all of those classical lessons that I drove you to, what do you prefer? Bagpipes and tin whistle!”

I truly feel that every facet of my teaching and life experiences with music in the community has pointed me in the direction of becoming the 2022 Hancock County Teacher of the Year. Thirty five years of teaching has given me ample time to live my dreams and achieve my goals.

Conners Emerson Show Choir

What is your present teaching assignment – how long have you been there?

My husband Bill, our children Bethany and Ethan, and I moved to Bar Harbor in 1989. We found a piece of wooded land overlooking Echo Lake and built our home. I took a year to earn my Maine Teaching Certificate and be home with my children. The following year, my current music position became available! It was meant to be! I have enjoyed inspiring thousands of children and involving their parents since 1990! 

At Conners Emerson School (CES), I teach K-6 general music classes, consisting of programs that I have initiated; second grade class violin, third grade tin whistle and xylophone, fourth grade ukuleles and acting to the classics, fifth grade dulcimer constructing and playing, sixth grade keyboard class, third through eighth grade string lessons and two orchestras. My fiddle group, the Swallowtail Fiddlers, provides a creative and traditional approach to learning tunes and this group serves as musical ambassadors from CES providing community service and delighting audiences of all ages. Every class sings and dances as well and the icing on the cake is the show choir where it all comes together! 

Image of an original song that Rebecca composed for my students

What do you love about teaching? What are your biggest challenges?

One of the most rewarding experiences that a teacher can experience is the creation of a new program. A quarter note is always a quarter note, however, there are so many different songs to sing and tunes to play that every year, even though the curriculum remains the same, I have the flexibility in choosing new music that the students and I are interested in and form new ensembles. I rarely have repeated music during my past 35 years of teaching. Also, if I am unable to find just the right music for my students, I compose something for them! It makes them feel so special.

Schools have locked their doors to community connections for the past two years due to COVID. My advocacy is building community; bringing the community into the school for inspiration and taking our school students into the community to serve. This generational aspect in reciprocity creates a circle of mentoring, which renews with every passing generation for my school and community. Parents of the primary grade students have not set foot inside our schools. Now is the time to reconnect and rebuild our school and community collaborations to inspire our young people to become responsible future leaders and policy makers! 

2018 Hancock County Teacher of the Year Jennifer Farnham with a student clarinetist, demonstrating a circle of mentoring. They first performed together in my community orchestra that I founded, TEMPO: The Eastern Maine Pops Orchestra, and continue to play alongside each other in the Bangor Band!
Photo that appeared in a YWCA calendar, empowering community women

Tell the blog readers about the Teacher of the Year process, what’s it been like?

The Teacher of the Year process has been one of reflection, self evaluation, and networking. I have enjoyed reflecting on my past accomplishments when writing the essays. Self evaluation gives me pause to fondly recall community music and performance events that I had forgotten about because my mind is always looking towards the next thing! The networking with my county cohort, Maine TOTY cohort, and Educate Maine gives a teacher a big picture of what we as TOTY can do to, well, educate Maine!  

Those involved in Educate Maine have prepared the TOTY candidates every step of the way for success. The Professional Development that I have participated in, through TOTY, has been very beneficial, educational, and fun. Because of it, I have grown as a teacher and person. 

 Sponsor Lee Auto reminded Rebecca of the time when her Swallowtail Fiddlers performed at the Seal Cove Auto Museum

The 2022 County Teachers of the Year is a strong cohort and it is an honor to be a part of it. Once a TOTY, always a TOTY so the friendships formed within this group are sure to last for years to come. The sponsors, UNUM and Lee Auto, to name two major contributors, have made it possible for the Teacher of the Year cohort to be treated as professionals so that travel to state-wide events is a luxury in that expenses are covered. I feel supported and appreciated.

Whose classroom have you visited that really impressed you and what were the pieces that stand out most to you? What did you learn from that experience?

Oh my! There are so many to choose from and I do not want to leave anyone out! 

During these COVID times, extra duties have been added to my schedule, which gave me insight into classrooms that I would not have normally walked into. Spending time in the K-8 classrooms during snack time, lunch, and indoor recess, have given me the gift of spending extra time with students in their homeroom in a relaxed atmosphere. Student interactions in their own environment during non-instructional time, gave me a glimpse of their social interactions.

 Composer project, 4th grade project at the Conners Emerson School. The students learn about a different composer each year, Rebecca draws it and cuts it apart, deals out the “puzzle pieces,” students color, assemble, and voila, masterpiece legacies!

Each physical classroom that I was assigned to, was set up differently, taking on the persona of the classroom teacher. One was decorated with elephants. The color blue was the predominance of another classroom. Yet another displayed items accrued on an overseas trip. Some classrooms were calm while others caused overstimulation, in my opinion. 

One thing that all the classrooms had in common was the display of student work. Whether it be self-portraits, a research project, or the signing of a classroom contract, every child was represented in some way in the classrooms. I work with incredible teachers at Conners Emerson and each brings a personal touch to their classroom to create a positive, safe, and inspirational cultural community. 

There are 32 composers hanging in Rebecca’s music room – one for each year that she has taught at CES. They are a good conversation starter among students plus alumni who return like to point out which composer that they helped create

You’ve had professional development in ‘communicating with the press’ since you’ve been selected as the Hancock County Teacher of the Year. What did you learn that is good advice for all teachers in communicating about the importance of your role as a teacher?

Communicating with the press is much different than communicating with your students. Teachers present new skills and techniques to students in numerous ways to accommodate various learning styles. With media, your communication needs to be clear, concise and to the point. Do not babble. 

Reporters love to let you talk on and on to catch you on something. Less is more. Keep it short. Create a one sentence, eight second sound bite from a paragraph to effectively make your point. If the interviewer shifts and has an underlying agenda, say, “That is an interesting question but it is not why I am here. Let me share my classroom experience with you” then blow your own horn.

Edmondson’s Swallowtail Fiddlers in 2009 performing in Agamont Park on the CBS Early Show

You have heard the saying, “Music speaks where words fail.” That is my motto! My Swallowtail Fiddlers spoke through toe-tapping jigs, reels, and strathspeys while performing on the CBS Early Show and the Channel 5 Morning News and I never spoke a word! 

I collaborated with first grade teacher, MaryAnne Young, to create the Maine Musical, Plant Kindness and Gather Love, about nature and Maine history. It makes a musical statement with eleven educational and entertaining songs, enhanced by movement, dance, script, and classroom activities that encourage students to be stewards of the earth. The synopsis features fourteen characters named for the wild flowers of Acadia National Park. All students in grades K-4 performed Plant Kindness and Gather Love at a public performance at The Criterion in Bar Harbor. The timing was perfect, for Plant Kindness and Gather Love became a celebration of the Centennial of Acadia National Park and the Bicentennial of Maine!

Edmondson and Young collaborated to create Maine musical, Plant Kindness and Gather Love. Acadia National Park donated Ranger hats for our young thespians and parent volunteers made flower decorations for the hats representing the wildflowers of Acadia National Park

What advice do you have for new teachers? 

Be flexible, go with the flow, and have a sense of humor. Young students are the source of an endless supply of optimism. Open your mind, hand, and heart and seek resources and opportunities beyond the classroom walls for real life learning experiences. Be a facilitator to spur your students’ imaginations. Expose your students to a wealth of stuff to guide them to discover their talents, to create their own voice, and have fun. Just like my classical training with a love for folk music I have networked with incredible musicians, both professional and recreational. I have the pleasure of expressing myself on both oboe and bagpipes, reaching very different audiences. 

Edmondson with two members from the Dirty Dozen band at their performance at the MENC National Convention in Salt Lake City. Edmondson advocated for school strings programs on a panel of twelve music teachers when she was designated as one of twelve in the country for having a Model Music Program.

Be diligent in continually making connections and build relationships between students and the community to spark an interest with your students. Be a good listener to what your students need and to what your community wants. There is a whole new world out there that is constantly changing. Embrace your journey with your students. You never know where it may lead for your students and you! Anything is possible.

Edmondson having fun being a pirate at Fort Knox. Her students enjoyed her antics.
The best of both worlds of, classical and folk, met on stage at The Grand Theater in Ellsworth. Guest Scottish National Fiddle Champion Sean Heely and Edmondson on the great Highland Bagpipes perform with her community orchestra, TEMPO, while Ethan Edmondson conducts Tributum for Celtic Pipes by Nan Avant, Composed for the Celebrate the World Music! Concert in 2013.
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Music Teacher Extraordinaire Retiring

June 21, 2022

Congratulations, Mrs. Murphy and thank you!

I love helping students find their voices.

Kim Murphy has been teaching music for the last 34 years and is retiring this month. She’s one of those teachers who I thought would never retire since she has a ton of energy and is totally engaged in every aspect of teaching. She has high expectations for herself and her students. Kim always has a smile on her face and her laughter is contagious! I’m certain that she will be missed! (You can learn something about Kim’s humor by the most of the photos below and the embedded links, be sure and click on the center capitalized titles to see the videos).

Kim started teaching grades 6-12 Choral and General Music at Oak Hill High School, Sabattus, Litchfield and Wales. Shortly afterward the position changed and she taught Band and Chorus, grades 9-12 at Oak Hill High School. She took a sabbatical in 1996-97 and then moved to Lincolnville. For the last 25 years she has taught at the high school, Camden-Rockport High School for 3 years and when the new high school opened, Camden Hills Regional High School (CHRHS), she has taught there. Earlier in her music career she worked as a music therapist in Peapack, NJ and Bethlehem, PA.

Kim was a double major and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education and Music Therapy. She is a Nationally Board Certified teacher.

What has been your favorite part of teaching?                                                                                                                       

  • I love helping students find their voices. Find their self-confidence through singing. I love it when someone has a solo – and other people never realized what a beautiful voice that person has.  And then there is just the self-confidence in getting up and singing before a large crowd – whether in a small group or a large group. There are life lessons – the teamwork is necessary. 
  • I love music festivals – where students from different schools come together to create works of beauty. It’s SO different from sports – where someone is always the winner and someone is always the loser. With music festivals – the competition has already happened (through auditions) and the coming together to create a concert in 2 – 3 days is a wonderful way to build connections.
  • And then of course – I love musicals!

Tell the readers about a moment in your teaching career that has been unforgettable? 

  • Well – there are many.  But a recent one is…. During the 2020-21 school year, I had the FIRST tent up!  And my tent was the FIRST to blow away! UNDER THE TENT!
And there she blows!

What changes have you experienced during your teaching career that have been positive and/or negative?

  • I think it’s great that kids can take so many AP courses – and get college credit. Yet this (adding of AP classes to schedules) has really hurt music programs in that the schedule and time for Band and Chorus is getting squeezed out. And also – is it healthy for a student to have so many AP classes?
  • In a positive manner, I think students are more assertive; they self-advocate for what they need in education; education is now –  less “top down” instruction and more collaboration.

YESTERDAY!

What do you think are three keys to ANY successful music ed program? 

  • Know your students, be genuine in your care for them
  • Flexibility and creativity – learn to work with schedule changes, or things that happen that throw your carefully written plans out the window
  • Plan, plan, plan 
  • And (a 4th!) have a sense of humor!

What are you most proud of in your career?

When I was hired at CRHS I said that my personal 10 yr goal was to have the strongest choral program in the State of Maine. We are lucky – we have fantastic community support. I think – with the numbers of students that have been accepted to District III, All State, All Eastern and National festivals over the years – I think that it has been one of the strongest choral programs in the State. Unfortunately – right now – due to Covid and other challenges – the Chorus program is not as strong (in numbers) and that breaks my heart. You have to have the numbers.

Who influenced your work as a teacher or perhaps inspired you?

Charlie Seymour and Steve Moro

Look into your crystal ball: what advice would you give to teachers?

Teaching is the hardest and best profession. There are days when you will want to cash in your chips early – don’t! Hold on. Your students learn more from your daily attitude and mindset than you realize. As a teacher – you teach a subject area – but it’s the character that you bring into the classroom that has the lasting educational benefit.

IT’S TIME TO SING!

How much of what you do is learned skills and how much is innate?

Wow – that’s an interesting question. I come from a family of teachers – so I think that was how we grew up. So – teaching comes naturally. I was going to be either an English or Math teacher. Those subjects come easily to me (well….not Math anymore – ha ha). But Music didn’t come easily. I had to work at it. I had to make it look easy. But – because I had to work at my music skills so hard, that made me a better teacher – because I could understand why kids were struggling, and I could break it down into smaller chunks for them to understand.

I’VE GOT MY OWN TENT!

What does retirement look like for you?

Exciting and Terrifying.  I have an Air BNB business at my house, which I LOVE to do – and hope to be able to grow that – especially in the shoulder seasons (when I would have been at school). I’m connecting with community theater and music groups – because that is my passion. I do a lot of work with my church – and hope to be able to volunteer more with places like AIO food pantry (food and energy assistance for citizens of Knox county) or other social programs. And finally – I will fly to CA (whenever I damn well please) to see my son!

If you were given $500,000.00 to do with whatever you please, what would it be?

I would create a theater program for kids – especially kids who struggle in life.  

Imagine you are 94 years old. You’re looking back, do you have any regrets?

I hope not!  You have to live in the moment and enjoy each beautiful step.

The concert photos in this blog post were taken by Marti Stone Photography.

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Art Teacher Extraordinaire Retiring

June 14, 2022

Congratulations, Mrs. Bickford and thank you!

There is nothing more rewarding than being in a room full of students who are productive and teaching each other the skills you have shared with them. When all the art rooms are full of active learners at every level and they are teaching each other a broad range of skills, that feeling is intoxicating. I still marvel at it to this day and I cannot think of anything like it.

Debra Bickford, better known as Deb, is retiring this year after 37 years teaching visual art. Her career started at Wells Jr. High School (1 year), she moved on to Westbrook Middle School (2 years), and she is ending her career at Westbrook High School (34 years).

Her early experiences as a student have influenced her teaching and her life. She learned at a young age that she loved learning but didn’t care for school. When she arrived at Maine College of Art & Design – then called Maine College of Art (MECA), she fell in love with being in a space where people were hungry for learning about the same thing. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from MECA and went on to the University of Southern Maine where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Art Education. During her formal learning she was engaged in pre-service teaching at Waynflete School in Portland and student taught at Gorham Schools and Thornton Academy in Saco.

Deb and I had a conversation about her teaching career and what became clear is her passion comes through every single day in and out of the classroom. She has positively impacted thousands of students! She’s proud of the fact that she is honest with students, even when it is hard. And, she has NEVER taken a sick day! Many people have influenced Deb over the years. She’s had the opportunity to work with many positively astonishing educators who have shown her what excellence looks like and how to make it happen.

“It would be really inspiring to make some sort of visual map or “who” and “what” I learned from so many. Like a mind map with art education inspiration at the center and people fanning out all around the center.

I hope Deb takes the time to make this visual map and send a copy to everyone on the map. It would be an amazing representation exhibiting the numbers that influence teachers!

Deb has had many unforgettable moments during her 37 years in the classroom. Here are a few highlights:

  • The day a student in my adaptive art class shared how much her family loved her art work and said: “I never knew I could be an artist”.
  • The day both parents met a students guidance counselor at 7a.m. to have her drop another content area to start Pre-AP Studio Art. The student had made the request but was told she had already had an art class. That same student went on and received a $10,000 scholarship at class night and earn a BFA in Painting at MECA.
  • The many texts, visits and emails from students thanking me for preparing them to be successful in college level visual arts classes. Many have even reported being asked to lead critiques in class. This makes me so happy.

Deb presenting her colleague Matt Johnson the Maine Art Education Association (MAEA) Art Teacher of the Year award in April at the spring MAEA conference at CMCA, Rockland

During Deb’s career she has experienced many changes, both positive and negative. She is pleased to see “more students who desire a broader, deeper education in the arts and are willing and prepared to advocate for what they want even when there are roadblocks.” The negative aspect: “Over a decade of lower expectations in just about every aspect of what makes a strong, successful student has had a powerful impact on adequate progress. In general, students who used to be in the average range are finding the typical stress of high school level classes too much to cope with and organize for. What it means to “be a student” has, on average, deteriorated.

Deb’s program has evolved over the years. She’s grateful for the educators she has worked closely with who have influenced the evolution. Her classes are often mixed groups with AP, Art 1, and advanced students in one space. And, Art 3, 4, AP and Studio Art the same. Juniors and seniors enrolled in Studio Art have their own studio spaces within the art room. Her colleague Matt Johnson teaches in an adjoining classroom. Students migrate between Matt’s and Deb’s classes, moving where learning needs can be met. Deb and Matt’s collegial relationship promote a common studio space that encourages a cross pollination between students. Flexibility has been critical in leading to student success. The teachers move to meet the needs of the kids, not visa versa. A great example of ‘student-centered’ learning environment.

These are the four key ingredients that Deb believes are essential to any successful visual art education program:

  1. Know your content inside out, backward, forward and upside down and be willing to honor tradition whilst embracing the future.
  2. Understand that art skills and teaching skills are two very different things.
  3. Make sure that ‘what’ you are teaching and ‘how’ you are teaching it provides real world, valuable skills to every student no matter what level (skill level, experience in art) they are, or why, they are taking your class.
  4. Embrace Advocacy at every single turn. Never, ever pass up the opportunity to help people understand how and why arts education matters, no matter how exhausting it is.

Deb’s advocacy has been ongoing and her successes have served students well. I asked Deb to look into her crystal ball and offer advice to teachers.

Being an educator is not for the faint of heart. Wanting to help others learn and grow takes courage. When you do your preservice, think really hard about ‘why’ you want to pursue this. Teaching Art is not easy or fluffy or romantic. If you want to work hard and can commit to being a lifelong learner – go for it.”

You can view Deb’s pinterest teaching board which she has organized by elements, principles, concepts, media and process at https:www.pinterest.com/dabickford/_saved/. Her personal website which includes here amazing art is at http://www.dabickford.com/.

Deb’s future is bright with a retirement plans filling her days with activities she loves. She’ll be tending her multiple gardens. 60X40 vegetable, fruit trees, and perennials. She has willow gardens for traditional willow basket making. Deb and her husband are tearing up 20 year old floors in her home and replacing them with something easier to care for time in retirement. Deb will include time in her studio on a regular basis; printmaking and painting. She plans to pursue becoming a Golden Artist Educator and run a few painting workshops. Deb and her husband love visiting remote locations and plan to travel to the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton and make a return visit to Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada as well as several other beautiful highways.

I’m sure all your colleagues and the blog readers are joining me to wish you well on your retirement Deb!

If you know of other visual or performing arts teachers retiring this year please let me know by emailing meartsed@gmail.com.

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Penny’s Story

April 19, 2022

MLTI t-shirt design

This story starts with the design that was selected for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) conference t-shirt. But, it’s about much more than that. It’s about a 7th grader who LOVES the arts. Congratulations to Penny Graham who attends Waterville Jr. High School. Her art work, seen below, was selected to be printed on t-shirts that will be worn by Maine middle schoolers and their teachers while they attend the virtual student conference being held, May 26. Registration is open for the MLTI Virtual Conference and all grade 7 and 8 Maine students are invited to participate.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Penny recently about her design that connects with this years conference theme: Space2Connect. Before getting to the creating part Penny looked at t-shirts from past years which helped to guide her decisions. She wanted it simple so she considered ideas with space, specifically planets. She decided on one color so it could be seen and read easily. She tried different colors including pink and green but kept coming back to purple. She’s been using the digital app Procreate on her iPad for about a year so it made sense to use it for designing the t-shirt idea. In fact, she has created a video that demonstrates her knowledge and how she went about accomplishing her design. Video about using the app Procreate. Penny’s video will be included on an upcoming episode of the MLTI SLAM Show, which focuses on student leadership in technology integration. 

Penny drawing

After being on the phone with Penny for about 45 minutes I realized that I was not only speaking to a t-shirt designer by an incredible arts advocate. “The Arts are important to me. My whole life I’ve always loved doing music and art because they’re my passions. I’ve done art clubs, I draw a lot, I played a little saxophone, guitar, and the recorder. This year I can see myself improving.”

In addition Penny loves to write, narratives and some poetry. She’ll often learn something while writing in school and goes home and practices what she’s learned. She’s had several different learning opportunities in the arts. “I love doing art with materials and using my hands and getting dirty. It is such fun.” She enjoys pen and ink, sketching, water color, rock painting and pottery. Penny also loves creating with digital tools because “I can change the design quickly and the process goes much smoother.

The arts rotate through the schedule for students at Waterville Jr. High and as a 7th grader she doesn’t have visual art but she does have music. She selected the violin which she played when she was younger and is happy to return to it. She enjoys playing in the school orchestra and likes the performances.  

She also loves theatre and has participated in the Sound of Music and Nobody Believes in Fairies which was written by one of the school’s 6th English teachers. She’s excited about the musical coming up this spring called Middleschool Madness. Penny says: “Theater is a really nice bonding experience. It’s a fun, social thing that I just love to do. I got to meet so many new people in the two plays I’ve been inMy theater experiences have all been really great.” 

Penny as Gretl

Penny also shared her experience of the pandemic. She was glad to have alone time to draw and bake and was able to pursue her hobbies. “I feel like without the pandemic I wouldn’t have been able to move forward that much. I feel like I could take big strokes that I wouldn’t have had time to do.”

Penny’s dad shared: “Waterville is a wonderful place for artistic and curious children like Penny.”

I’m certain that Penny has a bright future and I’m grateful to have met her and for our conversation.

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Nicholas Parker’s Story

February 26, 2022

Musical journey and it’s impact on something larger

This is a story about Nicholas Parker but his story is especially poignant at this time with the invasion by Russia of Ukraine earlier this week. Samantha Smith was a 10 year old girl living in Manchester, Maine when, in 1982, she wrote to the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Yuri AndropovI. She was seeking to understand why the relations between the Soviet Union and the United States were so tense. Her question and bravery prompted a response and made a huge difference. She received an invitation to the Soviet Union and became a Goodwill Ambassador. Sadly, Samantha, at the age of 13, and her father, died in a plane crash. Her spirit and commitment to peace lives on. I pray for peace for the people of Ukraine.

If we could be friends by just getting to know each other better, then what are our countries really arguing about? Nothing could be more important than not having a war if a war could kill everything.” ~Samantha Smith

NICHOLAS PARKER’S STORY

As many young children do when there is a piano in the house Nicholas started ‘playing’ random notes for fun at an early age. At age 9 he started taking piano lessons from Amy Irish. At the time, he knew how to play “Do-Re-Mifrom The Sound of Music using solely his pointer finger. Amy taught him to develop his piano abilities and he fell in love with the instrument over the next decade.

PLEASE NOTE: All of the indented bold and italic sections below are quotes from Nicholas Parker.

“Plunking around on the piano and coming up with my own melodies has been one of my favorite activities since the beginning, though I never really put my efforts into writing a complete piece until the eighth grade.”

Nicholas playing Do-Re-Mi

In 2014 while in grade 8 at Reeds Brook School in Hampden Nicholas had Karyn Field for a teacher. Students were engaged in project based learning using Meridian Stories. Along with teaching Karyn was the Civil Rights Advisor so she decided to reach out to Rob Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) to enrich the opportunities for student learning. Rob brought some of his large portraits to school to hang in the library. Students selected a portrait from Rob’s collection and were assigned to do some sort of creative project on that person. Nicholas chose Samantha Smith.

I chose Samantha Smith, a girl from Maine who, in the ‘80s, was known as America’s Youngest Ambassador, and who traveled to the Soviet Union as a peace activist at the height of the Cold War. For my project, I wrote a piano piece about Samantha’s life.

Piano recital with Amy Irish

For several days Nicholas worked independently in the music room while writing the piece about Samantha Smith. Karyn remembers checking in with him periodically to hear what he was accomplishing. Nick used his musical abilities and combined them with Samantha Smith; an ideal project in many ways.

When Rob and AWTT staff saw and heard what Nicholas had accomplished they were very impressed. A conversation followed and out of this grew the ongoing AWTT project offered each year to middle students. The Samantha Smith Challenge (SSC) is a dynamic educational program for middle and high school students that uses the creative arts to build a bridge between the classroom and the world as students become compassionate, courageous, and engaged citizens. SSC projects teach students that, no matter what age, they can be part of solving the challenges and problems they see around them and work for the common good.

“Looking back, I would have written the piece a bit differently now (on account of my skills having developed significantly since I was 13), but the music nevertheless managed to elicit a response from Mr. Shetterly, who was present when we displayed our projects.”

Playing on a street piano

Karyn shared that Nicholas was a confident and very humble student. He was provided an amazing opportunity to take what someone did that created change and through Rob’s painting of Samantha, together they elevated her voice. Nicholas was invited, while in high school, to speak at the New England League of Middle Schools annual dinner. Karyn said: “Through his passion and intelligence and his gifts he opened doors for others students and served as a good role model.”

“Seeing the impact my project had on Mr. Shetterly and the creation of the Samantha Smith Challenge was wonderful. Since then, I’ve loved staying in touch with AWTT when I’m able, and have enjoyed learning much more in the fields of piano performance and composition.”

Nicholas returned at Christmas from a semester studying in Italy. He took time to provide an update what he’s doing and some of his thinking.

“Today, I am headed into my senior year at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, where I am majoring in Music and Italian Studies. While I have grown a lot in my abilities, I must admit that I’m still trying to figure out what it is that I want to write (and how to write it). George Winston, whose CDs my parents used to play when I was growing up, is a source of much inspiration. His seasonal albums are some of my favorites, and the way in which he captures natural settings through the piano is exceptional. 

Working on music while in Italy last fall

The opportunity to teach music to others has presented itself in recent years as well, and I have found myself working with a few students—albeit largely in a virtual format—on the fundamentals of music and piano-playing. To introduce people to the piano has been an immense joy, and quite often has made me think of the importance of the arts and music in education. I personally have learned at least as much from studying music as I have from any science or math course, and in fact have found that the subjects of music and science are not quite so different. And yet, when it comes to many schools (especially those in less-privileged areas or with less funding), the arts and music programs are all too often the first on the chopping block. The benefits of music in education are plentiful, but inclusion and accessibility are indispensable when it comes to having an impact on students’ development.

Nick performing the Samantha Smith piece he wrote:

As was stated by Stanford University professor Eliot Eisner (quoted previously on this blog), “The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.” Whether by aiding in telling the story of Samantha Smith, or by helping me explore the natural world around us in a way that words and numbers cannot, music has occupied a space in my life that nothing else could. It’s impact on me has in turn given me the potential to impact a little bit of my corner of the world, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

AWTT Education Director Connie Carter has valued her time working with Nicholas and said the following: “Besides being the catalyst for AWTT’s education program the Samantha Smith Challenge, Nick has continued to be a strong voice for courageous student activism.  He has spoken at conferences about AWTT and was a critical voice in our strategic planning process.  Listening to Nick talk about the importance of finding and using one’s voice is like listening to a beautiful musical composition  — full of meaning, compassion, and inspiration.”

It was such a gift to converse with Nicholas and hear his story. His journey in many ways is just beginning, especially to those of us who have been around for many years. But, his musical journey started many years ago as a small child. I’m grateful Nicholas shared his story and I’m sure it will inspire and remind us how important it is to provide learning opportunities in the arts for all.

If you have a student or a former student whose story will inspire please contact me at meartsed@gmail.com!

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