Impact Stories

  • Kelly Daggs

Performing Arts During Distance Learning

An interview with: Liz Brummel (LAFSD TK-5 Music), Bob Athayde (Stanley Middle School Music),

Lauren Gibson (Acalanes High School Music), and Ed Meehan (Acalanes High School Drama)

I sat down and “zoomed” in with four exceptional teachers to discuss the importance of Performing Arts in education. LPIE is instrumental in the Lafayette public schools. Our teachers change the course of our students' lives every day, providing opportunities, impacting learning, enriching lives. A lot of focus is placed on the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) framework despite the many benefits of Performing Arts in schools. LPIE utilizes the acronym STEAM, to include the Arts.

We discussed that it has been proven that people involved in Performing Arts are able to engage in ways that allow them to properly succeed in life with empathy, understanding, emotional intelligence, and confidence. It is necessary to get children involved in the Performing Arts at an early stage to equip them with all the necessary skills to navigate through life. Enter Ms. Liz Brummel! Ms. Brummel and Elementary Music Teachers provide the youngest community of learners skills to create, respond, connect, and perform. In grades TK-3, students use tools such as egg shakers, rhythm sticks, and scarves to begin their musical learning. The process continues through 4th grade. In 5th grade, students begin studying an instrument of their choice. Thanks to LPIE, every 5th grader participates in Music Core (Band, Chorus, or Strings), and has the benefit of learning the basics of that instrument while furthering their music literacy skills.

Mr. Bob Athayde, the Instrumental Music Director at Stanley Middle School, shared that music makes you a better learner. The skills associated with learning an instrument and the discipline of practicing are transferable to any other subject. The Performing Arts allow an avenue to develop cognitive abilities that complement study in other disciplines.

Aristotle said ‘the roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet’ – it’s hard learning something and you can often struggle to see the value of it; music has an immediate way of showing that you’re making progress.

When asked “what skills does a music/theatre arts education build,” Mr. Ed Meehan shared that arts and musical theatre are the synthesis of all other disciplines. Drama and the Performing Arts provide students the opportunity to build on their cognitive skills. He also highlighted that authentic communication is essential between artists, and leads to maintaining healthy communication in the community. In his classes at Acalanes, he creates a safe space where actions and consequences can be examined, discussed, and experienced. The focus is on the process, not the product. If you have had an opportunity to see any of the performances at Acalanes, Mr. Meehan is successful at both process and product!

I posed a question to these four educators about how they work together to create a cohesive program from TK to 12th grade. They shared that they use scaffolding to move students progressively towards stronger understanding of music and drama. They collaborate to bridge learning gaps. Through the assistance of LPIE music instructors and coaches in the classrooms, virtual or in person, they can offer differentiated instruction. An incredible benefit to their students! As a parent, it is magical to watch the music instructors teach individual students to play collaboratively and create beautiful music.

Mr. Meehan, Ms. Lauren Gibson, Ms. Brummel and Mr. Athayde collectively stressed that they create a space for ALL people, regardless of race, creed, preferences, or ability. They have a fully inclusive environment that is engaging, enlightening, and inspires the love of the arts. Since coming to Acalanes, Ms. Gibson has reinvented and expanded the Pep Band, open to all students! In addition to directing the Jazz Ensemble, Concert Band, Orchestra, Symphonic, and Wind Ensemble, she resurrected the Acalanes Fight Song and incorporated a Drum Line (that hadn’t been utilized in over ten years!).

Over the years, the music programs at LafSD and Acalanes have grown thanks to the incredible leadership and passion of our music teachers and the generosity of parents and community. While we sing our praises to the teachers who have inspired students’ love of Music and Performing Arts, they shared an incredible amount of gratitude for LPIE. When asked “what does LPIE mean to you,” Mr. Meehan, Mr. Athayde, Ms. Gibson and Ms. Brummel shared some of the areas that make them more effective teachers: LPIE-sponsored guest teachers and coaches; providing students access to Smart Music (an interactive online practicing program); procuring and maintaining musical instruments; and providing supplies that support returning to in-person learning. These aspects are invaluable parts of their curriculum.

I read a quote about a “myth” that you have to be either an artist or a scientist; we can all agree that needs to be dispelled! “To be a good physicist you need to be creative; to be a good artist you must be disciplined and accurate.” Thank you to our incredible teachers who can teach us both, and thanks to LPIE donors for their ongoing support.