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Four students playing the trombone.

Nearly 200 students are part of the Brooklyn Center Junior/Senior High School band program, and many of them have University of Minnesota students as a music education mentor.

U students participate in music mentorship with metro school

By Jen Jackson

June 16, 2006

Last spring, while supervising a student teacher at Brooklyn Center Junior/Senior High School (BCHS), Liz Jackson caught the school's band teacher Chris Porter in action. This brief interlude inspired the University of Minnesota assistant professor of music education to start a partnership between the school and the U's School of Music (SOM).

"I saw amazing things happening in that band room that literally brought tears to my eyes," says Jackson. "The atmosphere was warm, inviting, safe and electrically charged with enthusiasm from all sides. Chris's relationship with her students and her ability to reach them as musicians was truly extraordinary, especially considering her lack of support staff and her limited budget. She was taking what she had and making the very best of it--to the great benefit of her students."

Brooklyn Center Junior/Senior High School serves 800 students in grades 7 to 12. Since 2002 the school's band program, which boasts nearly 200 students, has increased more than 350 percent, thanks to the dedication, talent, and persistence of Porter.

The mentorship program that Jackson and Porter established for music education students at the U is tailored to instrumental music education majors in their junior year who have not had any student teaching field experience. The SOM students are assigned six to seven students for 12 weeks, and they are responsible for curriculum development, lesson planning, implementation, and assessment of the BCHS students. The program is a win-win for both parties: It provides the high school students with individualized musical instruction, positive role models, and exposure to higher education, while giving the future music educators practical classroom experience with diverse students of varying musical abilities.

"We can talk about philosophies of teaching, we can examine curricula, we can expand our knowledge of literature, we can practice our conducting, but we can't learn to interact successfully with students of varying ability and developmental levels without actually going to the schools," says Jackson. In fact, in addition to this partnership, the University of Minnesota music education division has worked with many other schools, including Andersen Open, Central High School in St. Paul, the FAIR School in Crystal, Minnehaha Academy, and Eden Prairie High School.

The program is one of many outreach initiatives at the University to help improve primary- and secondary-school education or to aid immigrant communities.

Music and math

Elementary school-age students at Whittier International Arts School in Minneapolis posted a noticeable improvement in math test scores this year. Why? U of M researcher Carol Freeman says participation in music lessons may have played an important role in boosting the students' mathematical reasoning skills. To learn more, listen to a University of Minnesota Moment.

Several music education students in the program have commented that the experience has solidified their passion for teaching future musicians. The U students are gaining practical experience teaching large groups of kids who have many different needs, both socially and academically.

"They are being forced to problem solve in ways we could never recreate in the classroom--how to maintain discipline while rehearsing music in a dressing room (because there's no space anywhere else) packed with beginners who all need individual help, how to motivate the student who appears to be disconnected with his or her surroundings because he's facing so many additional challenges outside of school, and how to convince the kid with low self-esteem that she really can do it," says Jackson. "They are seeing first hand what is required of a professional music educator who truly cares about kids."

Jackson hopes to continue the program with BCHS for many years to come and adds that she wants her students "to experience this program and realize all that can be accomplished when a teacher takes the time to understand his or her students' needs and does everything possible to help them succeed despite the odds."