Teachers Make Learning Music More Accessible—and Fun

Mar 3, 2022

two young girls playing a small guitar while sitting on the groundMarch is Music in Our Schools Month, a time to celebrate how music education creates joy in the lives of K – 12 students across the country. It’s a time to celebrate the act of creating, collaborating, and performing. For two music teachers at Title I schools in Sarasota County, March is just another month of innovative, exciting music instruction.    

At Tuttle Elementary School, teacher Aileen Hernandez Zapata has captivated her K – 5 music students using an online program called Quaver. Through an EducateSRQ Teacher and Schoolwide Grant provided by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, she was able to purchase a year subscription. 

Aileen loves the interactive program, which she calls a “super tool,” and she uses it daily with her students. With a karaoke feature, students can sing along while words float across the ActivPanel, making what can be stressful and embarrassing for some students a moment of unity and joy. Students can play along on recorders and ukuleles while notes move across the screen. Students learn to read and write music while interacting with the program on the ActivPanel, making learning more active. With Quaver, Aileen’s students learn music history and engage with interactive quizzes. In February, they explored Black History Month through music.       

At Tuttle Elementary, where 87.1% of its students are identified as economically disadvantaged, there is a technology gap. Many students are unable to access computers or the internet at home. For these students, Quaver has served a dual purpose: it has been a fun, innovative way to learn music and music history—and it provides students a valuable opportunity to engage with web-based technology, helping to bridge the gap.  

Central to music instruction is creation, and with Quaver, Aileen’s students can produce their own electronic music, which they can share with each other and with other students from around the world—indeed, from as far away as Australia. Students listen to, rate, and comment on their peers’ songs and the songs of faraway young people. Aileen’s students have even won contests with their compositions, gaining confidence in their skills. In the process, they’re learning online etiquette, support, and kindness.  

Of her job, Aileen says, “I love teaching elementary school students because of their sense of wonder… They love learning.” With her own passion for music, which she studied at the conservatory at InterAmerican University in Puerto Rico, and with a little help from an innovative, fun program, she is fueling that wonder in her students, that love to understand more. She is building a foundation and captivating students who are discovering a passion that for some will open pathways that they will follow into college and career.   

Like Tuttle Elementary, Booker Middle is a Title I school where many students are unable to afford or access music supplies. While students receive fee waivers so they can participate in music classes, teacher Carlos Silva is committed to ensuring that all his students have opportunities to express themselves musically inside and outside of the classroom.    

two students hold a microphone while others are playing keyboards and guitarsCarlos teaches Modern Band, a new course in Sarasota County Schools that approaches music instruction through contemporary, less traditional forms. Students play electric guitar and bass. They play drums and keyboards. They sing, and rap. They explore music across genres, styles, and decades—and they do so actively, by playing it together in the classroom and at concerts.  

Carlos prefers when his students have agency, when their interests guide instruction when he learns about them through their music selections and their own lyrics and creations. To ensure these students access to instruments and to provide them more opportunities to play concerts, Carlos applied for and received an EducateSRQ Teacher and Schoolwide Grant for his project “Expanding the Music Classroom.” With this grant, Carlos could purchase much-needed guitar strings, keyboard cases, amplifiers, drums, headphone adapters, and other music supplies.  

In teaching music, Carlos is most inspired by his students’ creativity and their excitement, and this grant has fueled both. With headphone adapters, for instance, students can use free online recording software in school and at home to create digital music, including music for movie trailers. Projects such as these, which create original songs, afford students opportunities to express themselves.  

boy pretends to play electric guitarWith amplifiers, cases for the keyboards, and other supplies, the class can more easily play concerts in and outside of Booker Middle School. Watching his kids play live and seeing their joy after concerts is a reminder of the power of teaching—and of music—to connect people. At a time when the pandemic has continued to isolate young people and heighten their anxiety, seeing his students smile and high-five each other after the show, after their nerves have settled, means everything to Carlos. It’s why he loves to teach music.     

Music changes lives. It connects people and creates joy, so vital anytime but especially in challenging times. With the help of EducationSRQ Teacher and Schoolwide Grants, both Aileen and Carlos have navigated another tumultuous year, using the power of music and technology to create connections and inspire creativity. Their grants have allowed them to improve students’ access to music, which is so vital to many students’ social and emotional wellbeing.  

At the Education Foundation, we’re proud to support these efforts and grateful for the donor support that makes these grants happen.