Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hot Cross Buns

Walking by a music classroom full of third grade students in Anytown, USA, honking sounds might cause one to imagine an excess of Canadian geese dropping out of formation to land squarely on one’s head. 

But no, these insistent sounds are not an assemblage of fair-weather fowl.  These, my friends, are the tootling strains of tradition!

The introduction of a simple instrument called a recorder during elementary music class has been a well-established national ritual since the 1960s.

In the mid-20th century, a German composer founded the introduction of recorders in German schools.  More than fifty years ago, recorders were already being mass produced for use in classrooms across the United States.

Using a nearly indestructible yet cheap plastic was the perfect way to introduce wind instruments to the masses.

My entourage (including Mrs. Gordon on camera and Mrs. Weikel on video) joined one of the third grade music classes to take a look.  

We immediately discovered several things.  

1) The students were very enthusiastic about their recorders.  
2) Most families have invested in a personal recorder for the children and the instruments come in various surprisingly lovely colors.  
3) And finally, elementary music teacher, Katie Litzenberger has the absolute patience of Job!

Retrieving their instruments and music folders from a specially organized wooden box, the students settled into three distinct rows.  

Yoga moves ensued, loosening up the shoulders and arms for optimal play.  

“Be my echo.”  Mrs. Litzenberger played a series of notes, and her eager musicians attempted to play back the same sounds.  Sounds sometimes resembling actual notes are achieved through the combination of air blown into the mouthpiece and the positioning of small fingers over recorder holes.  Sometimes the sound needed a little tweaking and with pained expression the teacher would remind her students, “that sound is getting squeaky…I think we’re putting too much air in there….”

If your childhood was anything like mine, I probably don’t have to tell you how nostalgic it was to hear that the music for Hot Cross Buns would be accompanying each student home that evening. But before that could happen, there was the song, Twist and Shout.  The Beatles would have been proud….. Several of the students had difficulty sitting still for their rendition of the classic tune. They began lifting and lowering their small bodies to accompany the note structure.  And over by the teacher’s desk, it was evident small Joshua had the moves (the twist...if not the shout)

Note identification and recognition was happening while the students also learned to sing and clap correct rhythms.  As with most things, some of our students displayed obvious natural musical talent.  Other students…let’s just say they have different kinds of flowers planted in their gardens.  (I learned that wonderful phrasing from one of our very appreciated school moms last year and it makes me smile every time it comes to mind).  

The video below will give you an idea about some of the happenings in class.  Thank you to the Weikel family for shooting and editing this video!


As the class honked a nice little tune, one student decided to dismantle his recorder instead. Our effective multitasker, Job (I mean Mrs. Litzenberger) calmly and kindly asked the student if he would like to play a solo for the class.  The industrious dismantler (probably a budding engineer) wordlessly declined, choosing instead to rejoin the segments of his recorder and play along.

There was a game of magic hearts.  Third grader, Evie (with insider information) whispered her knowledgeable opinion in my general direction.  “This is fun, you’re going to like it!” Indeed I did…the class standing on colorful dots and galloping with gusto around the room to the jaunty music Mrs. Litzenberger played.  

“Recorders out of your mouths for galloping!”, she reminded.  

The children needed to identify small sections of song and play them back.  They clearly loved the game.

Mary Had a Little Lamb is the song that most often comes to mind as one recalls that pathetic coaxing of a tune from one's own personal school recorder.  My own fondest memories include practice time after school on my family’s large front porch.  

Spring breezes swirled around me as I magically produced a forceful rendition of “Hot Cross Buns.”  Feeling accomplished while belting out those impressive three notes, I had no clue I was playing an English nursery rhyme about a Good Friday yeast roll.  I was probably attracting feral cats from all over the neighborhood too, but that is a story for another day. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Our Fabulous Four-Footed Friend

Wednesdays are a particularly wonderful day because special assistant, Lucky Landis comes to the Penn View campus of Dock Mennonite Academy to assist the students in the learning process! 

Lucky loves his days at school.

Arriving with his owner, Dr. Sharon Fransen,
for a day of important work.

Lucky is our school’s therapy dog.  His owner is Dr. Sharon Fransen, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction.  Lucky comes with lots of experience, having for many years insinuated himself sociably alongside Sharon’s twin girls, Hannah and Kate.

Though therapy dogs do not qualify as service dogs, they do a great job enhancing the lives of the people they serve.

Therapy dogs share their gift of companionship in places where people benefit from a calming (and in this case fabulously furry) presence.  Therapy dogs can be found in hospitals, schools, retirement homes, and hospice centers. 

In some cases, therapy dogs aid victims of natural disaster and are instrumental in helping children overcome speech and emotional disorders. 

Universities across the country enlist therapy dogs to help college students “de-stress.”  Four-footed cohorts are particularly helpful during the week of final exams!

Lucky’s job at our school involves providing comfort while listening to our students read.  Reading aloud builds confidence.  Comprehension and vocabulary skills are strengthened as the children share their stories with Lucky.  His gentle and patient demeanor helps the students to relax and concentrate on the task at hand. 

Michael was feeling a little camera shy but Lucky was eager to head to his favorite reading spot when Michael took his leash!

There is no fear of judgment from such a loyal and friendly companion!

Hudson reading about CATS!

Lucky and I have developed a bit of a rapport, which was problematic when I walked into the classroom and tried to take a photo of Hudson who was ironically reading Lucky a book entitled, "Have You Seen My Cat?" My furry friend stood up eagerly, dragging his leash and one hilariously laughing Hudson along the floor in his attempt to greet me.

Many of our classrooms have a delightful assortment of seating options available to students.

Lillian and Lucky, fast friends.  

Ms. Wismer working with first grade students.

Taking a stretch break after reading books!

Students in different grade levels have the opportunity to read to Lucky. 

All of that intent listening is exhausting work for a seven year old golden retriever. Being the recipient of so much expressive adoration can be draining as well!  

At the end of the first grade reading session, the children take Lucky for a restorative walk.  This change of pace helps to bolster Lucky for his final work of the day with the second grade group. 

Lucky is even a celebrity on the Middle School end of campus!
Some serious canine napping transpires when Lucky returns home on Wednesday afternoons! In fact, he sometimes nods off in the car during his short drive home!

Lucky does not have access to indoor restaurants and public spaces like a service dog might, but we at Dock Mennonite Academy think he should! In fact, he is quite deserving of a wonderful dinner out for the important role he plays. But for now, we'll settle for the hugs....

Our school community is most thankful for Lucky’s steadfast work with Dock Mennonite Academy's budding readers. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

High School Campus Visit

The January Peek comes to you from guest blogger and middle school teacher, Monica Schroeder.

Conflicting feelings that make up the 8th grade mind scramble to the front on a day scheduled for a high-school visit.  

How good do I need to look? 

Do I take my backpack? 

Will someone show me where to go? 

Are we visiting classes? 

Who’s going to see me? 

Will I see the people I know? 

There is so much that is unknown.

Every December we take the 8th graders over to the high school campus to give them a chance to see what’s ahead. Many students are familiar with the campus - or at least parts of the campus - for a variety of reasons. 

Some have attended sporting events in the stadium or gym; some have been to musicals, concerts, or plays; some have been to camps or homecoming weekends. But on this day, they consider what it will be like to actually be a student here.

After attending chapel at the home school, we board buses to the high school. The mixture of the excitement that comes from getting out of classes and the nervous exuberance about going into the unknown quickly fogs up the windows. 

Upon arrival, we are escorted to the chapel balcony to see what their service is like. Do the 8th graders notice the student participation in chapel and realize that high-schoolers sing? Some do.

Next on our itinerary are workshops that several faculty members provide as a way for 8th grade students to get a preview of some high-school classes.  Our students can experience choir, robotics, graphic design, a food lab - and more! 

This is a really nice way to make the time interesting. After 2 of these experiences, we are invited to enjoy the wonderful lunch prepared for that day. During this time, the 8th graders get a feel for the kind of freedom that high school students enjoy. That’s the part that makes it difficult to take them back to the EC-8 campus!

After seeing friends and siblings in the cafeteria, it’s time to head to the theater for some informational time. A panel of students - mostly juniors and seniors - share experiences that they find valuable from sports to the arts to classes to friendships. A recurring theme is to be open to new experiences and new people. 

Try new things. Meet new people.

The bus ride back is a little different. No more nervousness but excitement for the future is the dominant attitude. They’re always a little harder to live with after this visit. They think they’re ready and that we should be giving them more freedom even now. 

Mr. Wiens' message to them was pretty strong along those lines: 
Freedom = Responsibility

When you put it like that, maybe we can put it off for these remaining months! Let the conflicting feelings continue. Only five and a half more months of middle school!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

New Friends, Old Friends

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve people born a 
full half century before my arrival.   I am endlessly grateful for the ways my early years were enriched through relationships with older generations
That's me, standing in front of my Daddy. I'm
wearing a fabulous hat that looks like a marshmallow.

Something almost magical happens when oldest and youngest come together.  One roomful of Dock Mennonite Academy students is blessed with this wonderful opportunity.

There are lots of great reasons to pursue inter-generational  programming. These connections provide fun and meaningful associations.  Stereotypes and age-related myths are quickly dispelled when genuine interaction takes place.  

Intentionally gathering these kinds of groups benefits students by encouraging positive attitudes toward aging.  Blossoming communication skills are improved as children learn to engage with a population other than the child’s family or peer group. 

The children were finishing up their “Foodie Friday” snack when I arrived to accompany them on their monthly outing.  Lining up in front of the large classroom mirror, they checked their own images closely, wiping crumbs from mouths before heading out to meet their senior friends.

Our small students climb with great anticipation into the van sent by Living Branches for their journey to see their elderly friends.  They are excited for the trip!  “I’m going on a BUS ride,” remarked Audrey, one of the students in the 4-year old class.  There is lots of buckling to be done as the children situate themselves into the passenger van seats for the short drive to Souderton’s Living Branches.  New student Tanvi was riding a “bus” for the very first time and she laughed the whole way to the retirement community!

Elderly friends were ready and waiting!  These wonderful folks hold a lifetime of wisdom and knowledge and are usually more than happy to share some of their experiences with small people!  Sharing stories is a great way to become companions.

Mrs. Kehs at the head of the line.

Our students are balls of energy. Veritable sponges, constantly learning as they absorb the information offered through their surroundings.  

The activity of the day was planned by Mrs. Kehs.  The residents and students made wreaths by gluing construction paper leaves, tissue paper and foam stickers to a paper plate base.  Once greetings were shared, the children and their counterparts got down to the business of wreath-making.

Peeling the backs from foam leaf stickers proved a challenging fine motor activity for both small and senior hands.  Not dissuaded, they helped each other with sticker-peeling, sometimes relying on the young hands in the pair and sometimes relying on well-worn fingers.

The temperature in the gathering area was a good ten or fifteen degrees warmer than the temperature inside our school building.  It didn’t take long for accompanying teachers to begin shedding sweaters.  Somehow the residents looked nice and cozy in their extra layers!

Four-year old children have lots of questions. Touching her companion’s hearing aide, one little girl asked, “What is in your ear?”  Her patient friend answered kindly.  
“That is so I can hear you!”  

It is easy to see that the expansion of the normal social network is valuable to the seniors as well.  

The elderly friends enjoy looking at life once again through the eyes of a little child.  Even one hour monthly provides something great to circle on the calendar, a real highlight to anticipate.  

Singing was involved.  One of the residents serenaded the children with several verses of “How much is that doggy in the window” during wreath construction.  The children often sing songs for their senior friends after the craft time, but a shortened visit due to a transportation delay precluded group songs this time around.

Charlie and Sophie eagerly explained the gluing and sticking process to their elder companion when she requested that they “show” her how it is done. 

One of the sweetest interactions I observed was on the men’s side of the crafting table.  While affixing items to his project, one of Graham’s brown construction paper maple leaves escaped unexpectedly and floated gently to the floor.  It landed in the most inconvenient spot, directly under the center of the small student’s rather weighty padded chair.  The chairs were positioned in close proximity to one another, making retrieval of that leaf more than a little difficult.  Graham's senior friend went immediately to work, snaking his aged and rather long arm down…down…and down. Finally achieving a most contorted angle, his arm looked rather like a pretzel.  His appendage extended as far as it could possibly go, he stretched his hand resolutely until his middle fingertip reached that elusive leaf.  The persistent gentleman was rewarded with an openly grateful four-year-old grin, causing the very kind man (now gallant leaf retriever) to chuckle to himself with great satisfaction. 

The organizer of this association is one of our early childhood teachers, Mrs. Kay Kehs.  Kay takes turns with a staff member from Living Branches in planning a shared monthly activity so the mixed pairs can work together, completing projects and building relationships. 

Unplanned activities arise too!  On the day I accompanied the group, some of the partners were comparing whistling skills and playing peekaboo before their time together came to an end.

In the interest of resident privacy, photos of some of the best faces of the day cannot be shared in this blog.  Rest assured, the smiles were present and beaming.    

Communities benefit when people engage with one another and everyone feels included in the process. 

Classroom Aide Mrs. Kelly Kratz helping to secure the students in the "bus" for the drive back to school.

New friends and old friends, accepting one another just as they are. 
We are so thankful for this unique and rewarding opportunity for our students! 

Blog Photo Credit:  Kathy Gordon