Welcome, my friends, to Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM), an El-Sistema-inspired music program that offers Juneau’s youth early access to instrumental instruction through in-school musical programming. Three Abreu Fellows are currently working here–myself, Alysia Lee, and Julie Davis. A greeting for you from a group of eager JAMM violinists who’ve begun their studies on paper violins that they created with their families:

Check out these lungs! Not so shabby for 5 years of age, eh?

JAMM is designed and run by the brilliant Lorrie Heagy (Abreu Fellow ’09-’10; Alaska State Teacher of the Year; JAMM Director; Teacher Extraordinaire; and Teacher-of-Teachers Extraordinaire; the list goes on!). JAMM’s musical programming takes place 5 days a week–before, during, and after school–at Glacier Valley Elementary School:

Glacier Valley Elementary, Juneau AK

Glacier Valley is a K-5 public elementary school with a demonstrated commitment to artistic programming for its students during the school day. It is also a Title I school, which means that the school receives funding from the U.S. Department of Education that is specifically allocated to schools that serve a high percentage of students from low-income families.

JAMM programming was integrated into the school last year, extending the number of hours and types of programs that the school offers to its students. Now, in addition to the current array of Glacier Valley musical offerings (Beginner Band, Advanced Band, Rock Band, Guitar Club, Tlinget Drumming, and General Music Classes), JAMM adds:

  • 30 minutes of Violin Class during school, 3 days a week for Kindergartners;
  • 45 minutes of Violin Class during school, 4 days a week for First Graders; and
  • 120 minutes of Musicianship and Bucket Drumming Class, 2 days a week after school for First Graders.

Lorrie’s goal is to build JAMM up, grade-by-grade, so that all of Glacier Valley’s students will have access to intensive music classes as a social and academic intervention. It is absolutely critical to note that these music classes are specifically aimed to enhance community development and parental involvement in their children’s educations and to promote young children’s cognitive skill development to strengthen their short-term academic performance and long-term academic futures. And all of this happens in a most palatable way, that keeps kids coming back for more, and more, and more. Beth Babcock, our non-profit strategy teacher and the CEO of the Crittenton Women’s Union, likens El Sistema music programs to “the sweetest kind of medicine” to use in addressing social ills and community problems.

Being a musical and/or artistic student here is really like being a kid in a candy store. At recess, students come to Lorrie’s room to practice, hang out, and share their joy. This is one of the beauties of an in-school model, as it allows for the creation and maintenance of a sacred spaces for a specific kind of energy throughout spare moments in the day:

It isn’t just Lorrie’s room that exudes a love of music, and the creation of harmonious sounds and luxurious rhythms. When you enter Glacier Valley Elementary in the morning, you will likely be greeted by a clarinet or trumpet player practicing “Hot Cross Buns.” When the school has pretty much emptied out by 3:30pm, Alicia can be found practicing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on her flute on the bench by the front doors of the school. And even during lunch and recess, you’ll hear students like Vaipuna and Iveena (whom you met in the video above), jammin’ out on drums and bass guitar to “Brown Eyed Girl” in a classroom, as they practice for Rock Band. After one rehearsal, they sound pretty fantastic, especially with Alysia singing lead vocals:

My journey here is tightly intertwined with the journeys of Lorrie, Alysia, and Julie. It is a real blessing to learn in a setting that fosters collaborative learning, by very nature of the fact that we are observing each others’ teaching and planning throughout each day. We have essentially turned Lorrie’s classroom into an educational laboratory, where we are trying out new technique, strategies, and lessons (including those of John Feierabend, a renowned early childhood music curricula specialist, whose lessons Alysia has been teaching with aplomb), designing new lessons, giving each other feedback regularly, team-teaching, and observing other teachers at the school. Formal and informal learning are tightly connected in the dynamic and routine we have fostered here, and I am learning tremendously from everyone I encounter–from my fellow Fellows, to the students at Glacier Valley, to fellow teaching artists I have been working with through the Teaching Artists Academy at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.

I’ll leave you with another few snapshots of our teaching and learning adventures here so far:

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…with a promise of more to come–in image, video, and reflection.