A group of Briarwood Elementary fifth grade students enters the music room, which is bedecked with paper chains, musical note decorations, pompoms and other festive touches. The students take their seats, and then select a ukulele to play during class with teacher Reanne Nakapaahu. After a bit of tuning, the class moves to warm-ups, practicing chords they learned in prior lessons and moving through a series of upbeat tunes, playing the music projected on the board at the front of the class.
When they get to a tricky combination, Nakapaahu – who goes by “Ms. N,” encourages the students to take 30 seconds to practice on their own before they all dive in together again. “Remember, the ring finger just slides – switch!” she calls, demonstrating on her own ukulele. “This is like a ring-finger workout!”
While the ukuleles are part of the regular curriculum at Briarwood, the decorations in the music room and throughout the whole school are in honor of “Music in Our Schools Month,” which is celebrated each March. Music teachers and students from around the district shared a glimpse of the music they create, study and enjoy in this video, which was played for the School Board during its March 10, 2022 meeting.
At Briarwood, teachers and staff throughout the building helped offer fun activities all month, including:
Music trivia for classes each week. At the end of the month, the class with the most correct answers wins a bonus music class.
“March Music Madness:” A bracket of music with four categories of songs: original Disney, musical theater songs, Quaver songs and newer Disney songs. At the end of the month, a “Briarwood Favorite” will be announced.
Music during lunches: Nakapaahu is playing music while the students much on their lunches each Wednesday this month.
Music tiles: In addition to the other extensive decorations, which include paper chains made out of recycled sheet music, each student was invited to create a tile that completes the prompt “I love music because …" The colorful tiles hang throughout the hallways.
Dress-up days featuring musical themes,
Activity calendar of fun musical prompts and facts to feature as time allows.
Just down the hall from the music room, teacher librarian Jacob Schmitt found fun ways to bring music into the students’ visits to the library this month. One group of older students studied the rhythms of rap and tried writing some of their own. For younger students, a special reading room is lined with twinkle lights, and decorated with a pretend campfire, pillows that look like slices off a tree, and a projection of the night sky on the ceiling. Schmitt welcomes a class, and opens the book “Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music,” by Margarita Engle so the students can watch him turn the pages as he reads – and begins to drum.
The book tells the tale of a girl who wanted to play drums but wasn’t allowed because she was a girl, and how her dreams of drumming one day came true.
Schmitt invites the students to play back the rhythms that he plays on a conga drum, on their tree pillows, and then later, on egg shakers. One page says, “the dancing tap of her own footsteps and the comforting pat of her own heartbeat.” He pauses, and asks the students to close their eyes, put their hand on their own heart and listen to their heartbeats, then drum that rhythm -- softer at first, then louder, building to a crescendo.
Back in the music room, a different class has arrived for their lesson with Ms. N. “Today we are going to do some of everything we have learned on the ukuleles so far,” she says. They strum through several songs before hitting a difficult combination of chords. “Everything is hard at one point,” Nakapaahu says. “You guys have to give yourselves credit for how far you’ve come! Remember, this is a learning process!”
Briarwood is able to offer a unit in ukulele for fifth grade students because a company in Nakapaahu’s hometown of Kaneohe, HI, donated 11 instruments, and PTA stipends supported the purchase of additional ukuleles. Elementary students at Briarwood and throughout the district learn a range of instruments including xylophones, glockenspiels, metallophones, boom whackers, recorders and a variety of percussion instruments.
“I grew up in a place where elementary music was not a standard class and it made me realize how much my role matters in education,” Nakapaahu said. “Our elementary music programs are imperative to the education of our young students. It gives them the ability to sing properly, understand rhythmic notations, read melodic notations, relate to other cultures and even gives some of our students an outlet for creativity.”
“Teaching music was never the job I grew up wanting, but it is most definitely my dream job and I am beyond thankful that I chose this path,” she continued. “I get to teach kids about something that I am extremely passionate about, and I have the ability to open their eyes to the incredible thing that music is. … Music is important to every aspect of life. It connects us to history, science, writing, art, social justice, physical education, math and so much more.”
In the image above, Briarwood fifth grade students play the ukulele. Below, students listen to Jacob Schmitt read aloud and drum from "Drum Dream Girl." The last photo shows teacher Reanne Nakapaahu demonstrating a technique on the ukulele as students play along.