Robbinsdale Area Schools is a recipient of the 2021 Best Communities for Music Education Award from the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation.
The award program recognizes districts that demonstrate outstanding achievement in efforts to provide music access to all students. Six school districts across the state earned the award. This is the second straight year that Robbinsdale Schools has earned the award.
The award is especially significant this year, due to the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic on music education.
Sarah Henning, the elementary music teacher at Forest Elementary, said she has been shifting gears constantly and putting in immense amount of effort this year. It means a bit more to be recognized during such a unique and challenging year, she said.
Robbinsdale has a long tradition of offering many music opportunities to students, said Sarah Prindiville, the fine arts curriculum coordinator for the district. To be recognized during the pandemic gives teachers credit for having to basically reinvent the whole field of music education, she said.
Re-imagining music education
At every grade level, educators had to re-imagine what music education looks like, with an emphasis on virtual performance because students have been in their homes, Prindiville said.
Staff members are having to re-examine learning activities because students aren’t able to perform together over the internet. Students are being asked to connect their learning to a personal experience or to reflect on someone else’s performance, she said.
According to Henning, one of the biggest challenges is that music education is focused around community and making music together in a synchronous way. The teachers had to get creative and are working on implementing new state standards for the arts, she said.
“We’ve had to find new ways to foster that sense of community,” Henning said.
Silver linings have come out of the changes in curriculum. For example, some of Henning’s students are participating in bucket drumming. Students are making music in ways they haven’t before that is COVID-19 safe and will help foster community, she said.
According to Henning, another benefit has been that students are becoming familiar with online platforms as a way to communicate with staff when in-person communication isn’t possible or comfortable. Students have a new way to advocate for themselves, their needs and their interests, she said.
Music is a creative outlet that has been positive for a lot of students, Henning said. One COVID-19 safe lesson she’s been doing more of is lyric writing because it can be done with both distance and in-person learning.
“To no one’s surprise, a lot of the lyrics that students are writing are reflecting some of their anxieties, with both the pandemic and with other major news stories,” Henning said.
One part of the district’s journey is making it known that there is a place for students in the music programs, Prindiville said, adding they work to eliminate barriers in the programming. The performing ensembles are accepting new members at every grade level and the summer music academy is expanding.
“Music is for everyone, and we want all students to be able to participate,” Prindiville said.
The district is committed to providing experiences for all students to access, said Bridget Hall, the principal of Lakeview Elementary who supports Prindiville with the fine arts. When students get excited about the fine arts, it keeps them focused and that can transfer to other areas of school.
According to Prindiville, there is a connection between the arts and other areas. They can be mutually supportive of one another, she said. The arts can help students make connections, provide an outlet for self-expression and build on skills that will complement the arts and other areas that students are studying, she said.
For Hall, music and the arts are all about literacy. The arts encompass reading, writing, listening and speaking.
“Our teachers make those connections for the students, saying, ‘hey you’re reading musical notes right now, that’s reading,’” Hall said. “There’s a lot of that, that transcends.”
Copyright © 2021 at Sun Newspapers. Digital dissemination of this content without prior written consent is a violation of federal law and may be subject to legal action.