More than just song and dance

Upcoming shows

Jackson Elementary School Holiday Program
Friday, Dec. 15, 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Tibbets Elementary School Holiday Program
Wednesday, Dec. 20, 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

Elkhorn Area Middle School Holiday Concerts
Tuesday, Dec. 19, sixth grade 5:15 p.m.; seventh grade 6:30 p.m.; eighth grade 7:45 p.m.

Elkhorn Area High School Holiday Concert
Wednesday, Dec. 20, 7 p.m.

Holiday programs provide Elkhorn students a diverse learning experience

(Published Dec. 7, 2006, 5:00 p.m.)

By Mike Heine/The Week

Come Halloween each year, students in the Elkhorn Area School District elementary schools start gearing up for the performance of a lifetime.

In the three K-5 schools, students in each grade participate in what are perhaps the most elaborate children’s holiday programs in the area. They each attract more than 1,000 visitors, coordinators say.

“Each year it’s so much fun,” said Mady Gruman, a fifth-grader at West Side Elementary. “I get to sing, dance and play instruments like the drums, bells and recorder.”

What’s best about them?

“My favorite part would be the choir because there are these really cool songs like ‘North Pole, North Pole’ where we do a dance with canes,” Mady said.

While the performances are an extraordinary amount of fun for Mady and her schoolmates, the students are also learning a lot without really realizing it.

“To me, this is a total learning experience,” said West Side music teacher Jan Bice. “They’re learning geography, history and multi-cultural experiences while learning how to sing, dance, play instruments and how to create.”

The elementary level music teachers all try to tie a common theme into their programs, which is conjoined with other classes throughout the school, Bice said.

Some geography teachers might have their students studying a particular country or culture. The programs will often tie in a song or dance from that part of the world to tie that learning together, Bice said.

“You have to make learning fun, and you have to make that a lifelong goal,” Bice said. “If you make it a burden at this age, they’re not going to want to do math and science and things like that later on.

“This helps them succeed so they can get a good flavor for school so they will want to continue in school.”

Joan Seye-Pyle, Tibbets Elementary music teacher, said the music programs help the younger students’ reading skills. She has the kindergartners use song sheets to recognize words by sight and identify rhyming words.

First and second graders can start to learn bigger words and sentence structures from the music they’re reading.

Some students have special speech and language needs and learning the music can help with articulation, Seye-Pyle said.

“Coming from a reading teacher’s point of view, a program like this is phenomenal,” said Barb Townsend, reading teacher at West Side. “When the kids are learning their music, they’re learning reading and getting a rhythm and flow to reading while understanding comprehension.

“It works on their reading fluency. That, in turn, helps their comprehension.”

If hammering down the English language wasn’t enough, a few of the songs in the programs are sung in foreign languages. Students have performed “Jingle Bell’s” in Spanish and have learned traditional German carols, Seye-Pyle said. There are even some songs that are signed in American Sign Language, Bice said.

The song selections also try to reach the full breadth of holiday celebrations, including Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

“I think if you approach it and you’re meeting many cultural perspectives, I think it’s very well received by everyone,” Seye-Pyle said.

Subject learning is one thing, but the students at the same time are learning life skills, said Jenny Priesgen, music teacher at Jackson Elementary.

“They really get into it and they learn a lot. As time goes on they go from learning songs to rehearsing to learning about audience and performance behavior,” Priesgen said. “They learn how to be a good audience and how to put a show together.”

Performance before an audience at a young age will help students gain confidence in public speaking opportunities in the future.

“Kids prone to going that direction have very little fear, now,” Townsend said. “It’s only when they get older do they have difficulty going in front of groups.

“I believe we’ve given our kids a real advantage in that area. They have been there so it’s really not that big of a thing anymore.”

To students like Mady, it’s still all just a bunch of fun this time of year. But the parents have come to realize all the learning benefits and appreciate the programs.

“It’s just a wonderful experience for the kids to partake in something like this,” Mady’s mom, Sherry Weis said. “A lot of times, kids won’t do more plays later on, so this is their one big chance to be a part of something that the school puts on.”

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