Getting creative in the classroom

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Most who live in the local area have likely heard of the Student Stride for Education, where kids and community members run to raise money for local schools.

But fewer people probably know where the money raised from the annual fitness festival goes.

The Washougal Schools Foundation uses the funds for student scholarships, as well as classroom grants.

The foundation is a non-profit that provides financial, intellectual and physical resources for students. The Stride raised almost $20,000 for those efforts this year.

Hathaway music teacher Amy Switzer recently secured a $1,000 Creative Classroom Grant for the purchase of 100 ukuleles. She is using these new instruments to teach her students about music theory. The grants are available twice yearly to teachers, staff, students and community members.

She chose to apply for the WSF grant after being inspired by a collegue in another district, who had successfully introduced ukuleles into her music program.

“I chose ukuleles because it is a string instrument,” Switzer said. “Students at our school learn music literacy through playing xylophones, percussion, wind instruments, moving and singing. Learning to play a string instrument also is appealing to students who aren’t necessarily interested in learning music literacy other ways.”

Switzer described the grant application process as easy and positive.

“WSF makes it clear they want the grants to go towards a quality project that impacts as many students as possible,” she said. “Teachers should definitely take advantage of this opportunity to enhance student engagement, experiences and learning opportunities for their classrooms.”

Switzer believes music is a great tool for teaching kids, when teachers can capture their attention and help them feel a sense of accomplishment.

“Once you learn to read music notes and rhythms on a music staff, you have ‘cracked the code’ and can transfer that knowledge to any music instrument you’d like to learn,” she said. “At Hathaway, students have learned to play various percussion instruments, drums, mallet instruments, recorders and band instruments.”

She continued, “Learning to play the ukulele opens the door to learning other string instruments such as guitar. It’s one more way to engage students who may not otherwise be that interested in music other than listening to it at home. It is a connection to many of the songs they know from their own world and makes music lessons more relatable to who they are, especially for our upper grade level students.”

Stephanie Eakins, Stride director, is enjoying seeing the funds in action.

“It is so rewarding to our all-volunteer board,” she said. “Membership in the Washougal Schools Foundation isn’t limited to parents or educators; our members are concerned community members, business owners and parents who believe in the power of a quality education to positively impact the community.”

She noted that the organization’s day-to-day activities aren’t always centered around the classroom.

“Many of our board members have past experience in the schools, so it’s easy for them to imagine how the funds will be used, but there really is no substitute for seeing a child interact with an instrument we helped to provide,” Eakins said. “Examples like this help us to see that our efforts really do make a difference.”

Switzer noted that the ukulele is fairly easy to learn to play.

“Students who may not have had success on a wind instrument can find success on the ukulele,” she said. “Music is such a broad subject that I believe can sometimes be overwhelming to some, if it’s not made accessible in a relatable way.”

Some of the students enjoyed the ukuleles so much, they went out and bought their own to play at home.

Switzer set up a Ukulele Google Classroom for the fifth-graders, so they can have the music and ukulele lesson slides available to them.

“We can use the iPads in class to display music and cut out the need to make copies for classroom use,” she said. “It also makes small group work more accessible. The class comments in Google classroom are very positive. The response to the ukulele makes it totally worth having to tune 30 every day.”