PARIS — When SAD 17 kids sheltering in place need a diversion or a smile while they work through distance learning they can turn to music. They can “pop in” to Tony Orlando’s (not that one) Zoom class, take in some one-on-one instruction with Rachel Potter, watch one of the singing videos prompted by Rachel Scala-Bolduc, or experiment with new sounds at home.

Orlando serves as music teacher at Guy E. Rowe School in Norway, Hebron Station School and Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris. Scala-Bolduc does the same at Oxford Elementary School and Hebron. Potter directs Oxford Middle School’s band and teaches instruments to younger grades. All three use different approaches to engage their students, while collaborating with other teachers from other specialist departments on the same.

Potter oversees OHMS’s 78-member band. At school the band practices together but when the students are at home, spread across eight communities, group sessions are not a realistic goal.

“I’m focused on private instruction, working with one or two students at a time using Zoom,” said Potter. “It’s been a mixed bag. Not all the students are practicing right now, which is okay. For some band practice is a welcome diversion, it gives them a chance to step away from their other classes and take a break. For others it may be too much and they want to focus on their core subjects.”

Band is an elective class so Potter makes herself available to students through Zoom and maintain contact through email. She said there are about a dozen students she has not had personal contact with since schools shut down on March 13 but has tracked their interactions with other teachers so she knows they have engagement elsewhere.

“It can get a little frustrating working with kids long-distance,” Potter said. “If an instrument malfunctions on its player, I can’t just reach over and help them fix it.”

Potter said the company the school contracts with for instrument rental has conferenced with some students to troubleshoot issues, but in some cases the student may have to play through it as it is.

Another challenge is that some of the percussionists do not have access to their instruments at home.

“I encourage the kids to improvise, to find four or five different sounding items in their houses – metal or wood or whatever – and practice that way,” she said. “It’s actually been interesting; they’re seeing percussion in a new way as do-it-yourselfers.”

Similarly, Orlando said that he is working to make music class available to his students in a supportive way through his website, Learning targets for each grade are outlined there and he posts links to educational resources as well as his own videos.

The Rowe Radicals, a Rowe Elementary School band directed by music teacher Tony Orlando, is on an indefinitely COVID-19 hiatus.

“I want music class to be fun and exciting,” he explained. “It’s a chance for kids to let loose. COVID-19 crushed that energy, but I can still engage students. Three mornings a week I host Zoom ‘pop-in’ classes. I am online and kids can pop into my virtual class to participate as they wish.”

Orlando concedes that it’s difficult to match in-class tempo using the computer so he is attempting ways to make it different. He began studying computer generated imagery and adds it to videos that he produces and releases on Fridays.

“I want to add movement, to make it interactive,” he said. “Kids like dinosaurs, unicorns, and I just add it to what they see online to increase engagement.”

In her classroom Scala-Bolduc focuses on singing in her music class and the chorus that she leads, as well as exploration with instruments like the piano, ukulele and recorder. Most instruments are no longer available to her students (although some have recorders at home) so she posts online resources for them to watch, although she finds it frustrating that many kids don’t have adequate internet access.

“I also do a weekly challenge for my students,” she said. “I tell them to go outside and explore what music in nature is like. They record and try to learn bird sounds. What might be outside that sounds like strings [instruments]?”

Music, art and PE class assignments for elementary students in distance learning. Supplied photo

To engage those students who cannot Zoom or watch videos, SAD 17 music teachers have partnered with the art and gym departments to create “bingo boards” that go into the student assignment packets. Each week students are given a series of challenges and encouraged to choose at least two to complete.

Scala-Bolduc said that the kids most engaged by music in the classroom seem to be the ones pursuing it independently through distance-learning. She sits on Oxford Elementary’s social committee where she is working with other staff to come up with more activities for students and teachers alike.

“Distance learning has been a bit overwhelming,” she said. “In normal times, by the time April vacation rolls around it’s hard to keep kids engaged. Teaching becomes harder in late spring.”

Potter, who is charged with teaching her 78 students more than a dozen different instruments, agrees. She hopes to schedule some online sessions among those with like instruments to bridge the isolation.

“Some students may be a little intimidated by watching video instruction,” she said. “It doesn’t allow for interaction. But at the same time, it’s given them time to [creatively] go out of bounds from the class room. They can try new things and learn new expression with their instruments.”

“Music should be fun,” said Orlando. “It’s hard to replicate it online. I work on getting the kids to move and dance. Jump around. I try to incorporate comedy with musical concepts.

“The challenge will be to keep engagement up as we go.”

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