'Ukes in the Classroom' coming to Exeter School District this Fall
By Rebecca Blanchard - The Boyertown Area Times - 6/23/2017
Three of Exeter’s elementary music teachers recently spent the afternoon learning the ukulele in preparation of bringing the instrument into the classroom in the fall.
As part of a new Berks County education program, “Ukes in the Classroom,” teachers Amanda Delbo, Nina Delewski, and Heather Claus took advantage of the professional development training to prepare for Exeter’s new ukulele classes. These classes will be offered to fourth graders throughout the district.
From left to right — Ukulele teacher Donna Lang with Exeter School District music teachers Amanda Delbo and Nina Delewski. Submitted photo
In a collaboration between the Reading Musical Foundation, Pretzel City Productions, Meadowood Music and Exeter School District – 40 ukuleles have already been delivered and are ready for students.
“We’re really excited to get the opportunity,” said Delbo, music teacher at Owatin Creek Elementary School.
“The kids are looking for something fresh to play,” said Delewski, explaining how they use the recorder in third grade into fourth. “We need something fresh for the fourth graders and this like the ray of light on our fourth grade curriculum.”
Delewski teaches music at Lorane Elementary School and Jacksonwald Elementary School.
“I think it will be fun, they’re going to want to get them out at first and experiment with them.” She joked how the ukulele may offer a more harmonious experimental phase compared to the recorder.
The teacher spent time with ukulele teacher Donna Lang on June 13 to learn how to tune, play, and teach the instrument.
Delbo says she keeps comparing the ukulele to recorders, since that’s what the kids are used to. “If they start to soar with the ukulele, they can take it home and learn their favorite songs. I think it will go from school to home a lot more fluently than the recorder does.” She also thinks the parents will be into it.
Paula Taylor of Meadowood Music, Blandon, said this all started when her and Keri Shultz, President of the Reading Musical Foundation, began talking about a collaborative ukulele program for a school that’s willing to invest resources into it.
“We weren’t sure how it might manifest,” said Taylor.
Things progressed from there for “Ukes in the Classroom.” Taylor explained how Pretzel City Productions was interested to participate and supply funding, Exeter School District matched the funding contribution, and the Reading Musical Foundation had the connections to the schools and ability to recruit interested parties.
“We had the access to the ukuleles and the ability to discount them,” said Taylor. Meadowood Music was also able to supply training for teachers and instruments maintenance. “They are all trained teachers, but they’ve never taught ukulele. It’s a different animal.”
Mike Andrews and Paula Taylor, Meadowood Music proprietors.
Shultz said she collaborated with Dave Kline of Pretzel City Productions, who also sits on the board of the Musical Foundation. This is the first district they’ve introduced the program into and it’s the only one they are doing this year as a way to start small and grow from there.
“We weren’t sure who else wanted to jump in. We knew there was a lot of interest out there; we put it out to one school to start. It’s better to start small.” She explained how there are currently six school districts in Berks County with a ukulele program, most of which are at the elementary level.
Shultz noted how the Reading Musical Foundation focuses on hands-on experiences.
“It makes more of an impact on kids when they actually play an instrument. Rather than spend money bringing musicians into the schools, when we weighed spending money on an assembly or buying instruments, we thought there was a bigger impact to be made by buying instruments. The instruments stay at the school. A concert is a one-time experience; the ukuleles are going to be there next year.”
When asked why they chose the ukulele over any other instrument – Shultz spoke about the size.
“They’re small. They fit in the kids hands.” She said the size of a guitar can sometimes cause problems for kids. “The size of ukulele really lends itself to elementary school kids. The great thing about the ukulele in particular -- it’s easy to have quick success on it. It doesn’t take that long for a kid to learn a song that he or she will recognize.” She believes quick success will help fuel the momentum of learning another song, and then another longer or harder song.
The collaboration efforts of “Ukes in the Classroom” will be put into full effect this fall.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR" Rebecca Blanchard has enjoyed writing throughout her entire life. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, she graduated from the professional writing program of Kutztown University in 2012. Rebecca joined Berks-Mont Newspapers in July of 2012 as editor of The Boyertown Area Times following her internship with the newspaper. In addition to writing, she enjoys traveling and cooking gluten-free foods. Reach the author at email@example.com or follow Rebecca on Twitter: @boyertowntimes.