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Finding Her Voice: A Student Experience

By ETM Partner School Teacher

(as told by the music teacher)

ETM believes that all children deserve access to high-quality music instruction, including students with behavioral problems and special needs.

Sarah,* a 4th grader in the Bronx, would frequently get into trouble for her disruptive outbursts in class from calling out to going off task. Sarah’s inability to channel her energy in a productive manner was impacting her learning across disciplines…until she developed an interest in my music class.

As a new general music teacher at my school, I knew it was important to implement standards for participation, musicianship and behavior to set my students up for success. With Sarah this involved helping her to become an active participant in class discussions and singing exercises. I told Sarah, “You have the potential to be successful in music.”

I want all of my students, especially those students like Sarah who lack self-confidence and support, to know that the music room is a safe space. Regardless of what happened in their last class, every student gets a blank slate and the opportunity in music to be the student they want to be.

As the school year progressed, I began to notice a difference in Sarah. She was learning through music to properly control and express her emotions, and was becoming a successful music student in the process.

Due to her steady improvements in class, I selected Sarah as a participant to join the ensemble chorus—comprised of students from across ETM’s 28 partner schools—to perform at the 2013 ETM Gala. While the school administration was hesitant to consent to this decision, due to Sarah’s history of outbursts, I pushed for her to have this experience. They reluctantly agreed.

Sarah was ecstatic when she was chosen, and was looking forward to singing at the event. After I explained the rehearsal requirements, Sarah worried that her opportunity might be in jeopardy. Sarah wanted to practice, and understood its importance, but quickly informed me that she might have difficulty in making the necessary travel arrangements to rehearse.^ She looked heartbroken. After talking with one of Sarah’s social workers we were able to get her to the rehearsals.

During the rehearsals and actual performance, Sarah’s positive energy, level of engagement and enjoyment were evident. In fact, Sarah was one of the best-behaved students there! At the last rehearsal, in particular, my eyes swelled when I saw her beaming smile. She was leaning forward virtually on her tip-toes so engaged. She was listening attentively to all instructions, singing—and more importantly—fully embracing the experience. Music has helped Sarah to stand out among her peers, and not for her tantrums, but for her talent. I am so proud of her progress.

*The student’s name was changed to protect her privacy and identity.
^ Selected participants’ parents were asked to make travel arrangements and in Sarah’s case this required traveling from her school in the Bronx to practice in Manhattan and back home.