First-year Teacher Goes the Extra Mile for Music Students 

Fine arts grant provides a hands-on musical education at Schmid Elementary

December 04, 2012

Until this fall, Schmid Elementary had been without a music program for more than five years.  Now, thanks to the increased instruction time provided by the Full School Day, all K-8 students receive 1-2 hours of music education per week.  And first-year music teacher Sarah Morgan is committed to ensuring that such instruction is as hands-on as possible.


A percussionist and euphonium player, Morgan received her education from DePaul University and Vandercook College of Music.  She was delighted to accept a teaching position at Schmid, which serves 190 students in the Cottage Grove Heights community.


“I love working with kids,” she said.  “And they are so excited to have music back in their school day again.”


For grades K-3, Morgan employs the Kodaly method, which emphasizes singing and promotes music literacy through play-based activities.  For the upper grades, she focuses on projects, music notation, and an understanding of musical instrumentation. 


Regardless of their ages, Morgan says that there is a universal musical desire among all her students. “They all want to get their hands on an instrument,” she said.  “Learning about the orchestra and what each instrument sounds like is okay, but they want to experience playing for themselves.”


This is what prompted Morgan to search out grant funding – dollars that would expand her music program by allowing her to bring actual instruments into her classroom.  And since many fundamentals of music are rooted in the piano, she decided that creating a keyboard lab would be a good place to start. 


Early this fall, Morgan applied for the Oppenheimer Foundation’s Teacher Incentive Grant – a funding mechanism that promotes innovative, experience-based learning projects.


“It was the first grant I ever wrote,” said Morgan.  “I basically just laid out my plan to create a keyboard lab and explained why I thought it would be so beneficial to my students.”


The Oppenheimer Foundation agreed, awarding Morgan $2,000 to create and implement her project.  Morgan plans to purchase 15 electric keyboards – enough so that a class of 30 students can all have their hands on an instrument at the same time.


“The keyboards have 61 keys,” she said.  “So they are long enough for two sets of hands.”


The keyboard lab will not be up and running until January 2013, but Morgan is already busy creating a curriculum that will allow students to learn at their own pace.  Her goals include teaching them to read music, as well as familiarizing them with basic hand and finger technique.  Her music classes will include ample time for keyboard practice, and she plans to incorporate composition from the very start.


“When students are learning to read, they are typically learning to write their letters at the same time,” she said.  “The same logic should be applied to learning music.”


Morgan hopes that this keyboard lab will be the start of a growing instrumental program at Schmid – a nice balance to the after-school choir that already exists.  “There is a lot we can do with our voices,” she said, “but there’s so much more I want to expose the students to if I can.”