Evan Thompson / The Record — South Whidbey Elementary School teacher Jean Cravy strums the guitar during a practice session on March 7 inside South Whidbey Elementary School’s music room.

Evan Thompson / The Record — South Whidbey Elementary School teacher Jean Cravy strums the guitar during a practice session on March 7 inside South Whidbey Elementary School’s music room.

Guitar, ukulele program brings music to the classroom

In the late afternoon on March 7 inside South Whidbey Elementary School, the strumming of guitars and soft singing voices of around a dozen teachers could be heard coming from the music room.

No, it wasn’t rehearsal for an all-teachers band. The group had a greater purpose in mind: Integrating music into the learning environment. The hope is that learning how to play the guitar and playing music to their students will increase student engagement and improve their education.

First-grade teacher Debra Davies-Vogel sings to her class so they can start the day on the footing. She’s hoping that learning and playing the guitar in front of her class will have the same effect.

“I’ve always wanted to bring more music into the classroom, but I don’t consider myself very musical,” Davies-Vogel said. “This has given me an avenue to bring music into the classroom.”

Around two dozen K-12 teachers and South Whidbey School District staff have taken part in a Guitars in the Classroom Training (GITC) program led by teaching artist Quinn Fitzpatrick. The group meets once a week inside the school’s music room.

Fitzpatrick said music stimulates multiple regions of the brain and reaches all different styles of learning. If kids in the classroom dance to the music, the students are taking part in what is known as kinesthetic learning which entails carrying out physical activities as opposed to listening to a lecture.

“It covers all different learning abilities and styles, and in general creates a more positive atmosphere than traditional lecturing,” Fitzpatrick said.”

Sitting in a semicircle around Fitzpatrick, the teachers played and sang everything from Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” to “If Your Happy and You Know It.” The class also included a review of their previous skills, as well an overview of song writing and rhythm techniques. They also discussed the importance of the music and its impact on the classroom environment.

“You’re affecting the mood,” Fitzpatrick told the class. “You’re setting up this as a positive place.”

The teachers’ experience levels vary. Some, like elementary school teacher Jean Cravy, played the guitar as a kid. But for others, such as Michelle Zisette, it was their first experience with a guitar.

“It’s been a goal of mine to learn to play,” said Zisette, a first-grade teacher. “It’s a great opportunity to have it right after school. We can support each other and ask questions.”

Teachers first began playing on ukuleles and eventually worked their way up to guitars. Fitzpatrick said open tuning, which tunes the guitar to one chord, has also helped in their learning curve.

“Most songs have only one chord,” Fitzpatrick said. “With the next two chords, they only have to put down two fingers.”

Fitzpatrick is an award-winning, top-tier wedding and event guitarist living Langley who has been teaching guitar privately and in groups at various education centers, high schools, colleges and universities since 2000. He also taught GITC since 2005. The program is from a San Diego-based nonprofit organization that helps train teachers to play the guitar and ukulele, which has in turn helped to promote student engagement, creativity, collaboration and a plethora of other benefits in the classroom, according to a press release.

The 10-week program ends on March 21.

Things came about when Fitzpatrick asked elementary school music teacher Kimmer Morris and school administrators if teachers would be interested in learning how to play the guitar. Superintendent Jo Moccia later sent out a district-wide email asking staff if they were open to the idea, to which many teachers responded in the affirmative.

Fitzpatrick said each class begins with teachers sharing success stories. That’s where Fitzpatrick heard the positive impacts of the music on their students.

“The most heart-warming are stories where teachers who are able to reach their students who they normally couldn’t reach, but are using music,” Fitzpatrick said. “Kids who are shy, closed are coming out of their shell and being more responsive.”

There will be future programs this summer and fall offered for South Whidbey School District staff or anyone working in a classroom setting. For more information, contact Fitzpatrick at quinn@quinnfitzpatrick.com or visit www.guitarsintheclassroom.org.

Evan Thompson / The Record — Paraprofessional Lori Chiarizio writes notes onto her music sheet at a practice session on March 7 inside South Whidbey Elementary School’s music room.

Evan Thompson / The Record — Paraprofessional Lori Chiarizio writes notes onto her music sheet at a practice session on March 7 inside South Whidbey Elementary School’s music room.

Evan Thompson / The Record — Twenty-three teachers are learning how to play the guitar so that they can integrate music into the learning experience.

Evan Thompson / The Record — Twenty-three teachers are learning how to play the guitar so that they can integrate music into the learning experience.

More in News

County plans housing in Oak Harbor

Island County officials are looking for someone to build an affordable housing project.

Pedestrian injured in car accident

A pedestrian was hit by a vehicle near Freeland Oct. 23, according to the Washington State Patrol.

Photo provided
The proposed specialty license plate features artwork by Robert Tandecki and depicts Penn Cove, the Coupeville Wharf and the Suva among other nods to the area's maritime history.
Proposed license plate features Whidbey scenes

Historic Whidbey and the Coupeville Maritime Heritage Foundation partnered to propose a new plate.

Photo provided
South Whidbey School Farms is looking for old Halloween pumpkins — such as this Jack-o’-Lantern — to be used as part of classes for students about decomposing pumpkins and life cycles.
School farm seeks post-Halloween jack-o-lanterns

With Nov. 1 just around the corner, South Whidbey School Farms is… Continue reading

County now offering federal stimulus grants to community service groups

Island County began accepting applications Oct. 15 for Community Service Grants.

Three school levies proposed for Coupeville on February ballot

The levies are for capital projects, school district technology and educational programs.

Group may convert hotel to housing

Island County commissioners approved a $70,000 grant to the Low Income Housing Institute.

Greenbank residents vie for Port of Coupeville board

Patrick Kennedy and Mike Seraphinoff both filed during the county’s special filing period.

Phony money left in church collection box | Island Scanner

Wednesday, Sept. 29 At 3:10 p.m., caller started laughing manically and said… Continue reading

Most Read