Excitement, writing and children

June 03, 2011|Kate Coleman

People often ask me what I write about in my first-Sunday-of-the-month-Lifestyle column.

"Anything I darn well please," I answer.

It's true.

I appreciate the freedom editors give me.

I've got a list of  "evergreens" — topics that work any time — but luckily, something usually gets my attention or excites me.

And this week, I'm excited.

I've written about how much I enjoy tutoring at my neighborhood elementary school and about how much respect I have for teachers and the important work they do. They go above and beyond the letter of the lesson plan in countless gestures of caring and concern for their students.

Recently, some of those students — fourth- and fifth-graders at Fountaindale Elementary School for the Arts and Academic Excellence — put on a show. It was a wonderful display of arts education in action.

Instrumental music teacher Jennifer Jones presented the only elementary school jazz band in Washington County. The kids looked professional and serious in their black pants and white shirts. A couple of the guys showed their cool with Blues-Brothersesque fedoras, but there was no comedy when the music began. The band played "Sing, Sing, Sing" then "C Jam Blues." Paper bowls served as mutes for the trumpets' "doo-wah, doo-wahs" in "Tuxedo Junction." These youngsters nailed music made iconic by Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller generations ago.

Dance teacher Amber Rhyne introduced the step team, saying that she had only facilitated the performance we were about to see. The idea for the ensemble, the choreography — rhythmic stomping, clapping and slapping — was the students'. Smiles and dimples peeked through the intense concentration on the steppers' faces.

From their entrance at the back of the auditorium through their energetic finale, precision and joy ruled.

"Music is very important to us," a member of Pizazz, Fountaindale's show choir, told the audience as the students took the stage. Music teacher Jennifer Roberts' troupe told the story of jazz through song and dance. Between songs, individuals provided information. One young performer said that music helps her believe in herself and dream bigger dreams.

Five evenings later, I was back — one of 800 attendees — at Fountaindale's first Exhibition of Student Learning.

Talk about believing in themselves!

I only visited "my kids'" fourth-grade-portable classroom, but kindergarteners through fifth-graders as well as dance, art and music classes all had "demonstrations of mastery," which is one of the 10 principles common to the Coalition of Essential Schools.

The flier handed out by parent volunteers informed visitors that Fountaindale was joining hundreds of schools across the country in demonstrating that "students can do important things."

In teacher David Warrenfeltz's room, I listened to several teams' demonstrations — the products of the children's investigations of the science behind some of their favorite things. They included a comparison of hamster and human DNA, explanations of solar power in baseball stadiums, cellphones, video games and baseball bats. Students had researched, reported, created computer displays, cited sources and confidently presented their findings.

They are dreaming big dreams.

I'm a believer, too.

Kate Coleman covers The Maryland Symphony and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail.                     

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