Students' successes are music to her ears

January 30, 2006|by KAREN HANNA


Between the rattle of shakers and maracas, the clomping of feet and the random whistle of plastic recorders, fifth-graders' attempts at rhythm fall into line.

The names and photographs of recorder black belts - students who have tackled and performed a series of ever-more-challenging pieces that include the national anthem and Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusic" - and a couple of old instruments hang from the walls in Linda Barnhart's classroom at Paramount Elementary School.

Strains of music spill into the hall.

"Can we play for the teacher? Can we play for the teacher?" students asked as a homeroom teacher came to collect her class.


Though her performance in the classroom brought music teacher Linda Barnhart recognition last year as one of eight finalists for Washington County Public Schools Teacher of the Year, she said earlier this month that the melodious sounds of student musicians are proof enough of a job well done.

"Occasionally, they'll make music that just makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It's like, 'Wow,'" said Barnhart, who directs the youth choir at Bethel United Methodist Church in Chewsville.

Clusters of students played on recorders, while others kept time for "Rhythm Parade" on rattlers and tambourines. Colored ribbons hanging from students' recorders bore testament to their accomplishments on the plastic instrument.

"All the skills you learn on the recorder transfer to every other instrument," Barnhart said during lunch.

While some students never take to the instrument, others play with passion, Barnhart said. About 20 fourth- and fifth-graders participate in an after-school recorder club, and about 30 fourth- and fifth-graders participate in an after-school choir club, she said. Still others show up for occasional summertime get-togethers Barnhart has organized for students interested in playing.

"Some of the kids that just don't fit in academically or socially, this gives them that spot to fit in," first-grade teacher Lucy Austin said.

For some students, the music plays on beyond Paramount.

"I get a lot of sixth-graders who will come back and say, 'Thank you. I made first chair,'" Barnhart said. Middle-school students have the options of joining choir, marching band or orchestra, or taking general music, she said.

According to Barnhart, an instrumental class that gives students the opportunity to try out other instruments started this year. A handful of students in her classes have prior experience with instruments, said Barnhart, who begins teaching students to read music from their first classes.

With younger students, Barnhart said she is focused on teaching pitch and beat. In one plastic container in her room, she keeps tennis balls she uses to teach students rhythm.

She said she even made cardboard shoes with laces to provide learning aids to students learning a song about tying their shoes.

A teacher since 1984, Barnhart has bounced around the county covering part-time positions. She said she knew all along she wanted to pursue music, but she worried about the rejection she would face as a performer. Instead, she went into teaching, deciding right away she wanted to work with the system's youngest students.

"I love the fact that I have a job that I can come to and smile about and be happy about," Barnhart said.

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