A big idea with a small start is getting international attention, as a video series looks at El Sistema music programs, including Juneau’s own.
Glacier Valley Elementary School music teacher Lorrie Heagy brought El Sistema to Juneau. After a fellowship in 2009 with the after school program’s Venezuelan founder Jose Antonio Abreu, Heagy developed an in-school model called Juneau, Alaska Music Matters — JAMM for short.
Since then, Heagy has been instrumental in spreading the JAMM model in Juneau and beyond.
The video series was a partnership between Annenberg Learner, a program of the Annenberg Foundation a New York-based public broadcasting network. Series Executive Producer Jill Peters, with Thirteen Productions, said series advisors recommended some programs to consider, and JAMM “rose to the top.”
“Lorrie Heagy is an outstanding teacher and teacher trainer,” Peters said. “Also, JAMM is a model program that offers an impressive variety of in-school and out-of-school opportunities for students.”
The series is designed to help teachers understand the El Sistema philosophy, Peters explained. It shows them how to “infuse its underlying principles into their practice and implement Sistema-inspired strategies with their students.”
The Power of Music can be viewed online at Learner.org/workshops/k5music/ and at least a few of the eight half-hour episodes will feature some familiar faces.
Two years ago, when filming started, Juneau was their first site visit.
“Juneau is on there the most, as far as examples,” Heagy said glowingly. “When they came to Juneau they filmed everything … it was an intense three days. School staff were so accommodating.”
JAMM is a model program because it is a sustainable, collaborative partnership between the community and the school district, Heagy said.
JAMM is in its fifth year and has expanded from Glacier Valley to include Riverbend and Auke Bay elementary schools. It has also expanded from Kindergarten to upper-level programs.
Further, it is more than just violins, with students learning how to use the computer-based composing program Garage Band, playing ukelele and incorporating dance and movement with Juneau Dance Theater’s Ricci Adan.
Though Heagy may be the mother of JAMM, it’s a program that relies heavily on collaboration with teachers and community members.
Participating teachers are enthusiastic because they see value in the program.
JoAnn Steininger teaches Kindergarten at Glacier Valley.
“Besides the obvious improvement of our musicians’ skills, stamina, grit and focus, I’ve seen so many side benefits,” she said. “Student relationships have shifted. We have four hours a week where our second- through fourth-graders work together and the older students naturally mentor our younger students.”
Steininger is happy to see the students learning about being part of a community. She also noted student engagement and confidence was increased.
“There are so many other little things that have evolved: parent involvement, improved student-teacher relationships, ownership of learning, respect for hard work and property,” Steininger said. “The list goes on.”
The benefits of the program are seen in older students as well.
“Over the years, as the JAMM students have come through my grade level, I have been impressed with the quality of learning the programs overflows to the classroom,” third-grade teacher Geoffrey Wyatt said. “I have noticed that JAMMers are often better equipped to listen to instructions and sustain challenging tasks for longer periods of time. They are good at celebrating each other’s successes and encouraging each other to do their best.”
Wyatt added that the effects of JAMM are contagious and that he can’t wait to have his own child in the program next year.
The program has been popular, so as it becomes optional in second grade, about 60 percent of students choose to continue. Heagy said she was worried they would be over capacity and might have to turn some students down, but other teachers stepped up to offer space and assistance.
“Even though we’re geographically removed from the rest of the country, we’re really taking the lead in best practices with a collaborative model that brings community and school together to meet needs of kids,” Heagy said.
Series producer Peters said her trip to Juneau to film JAMM was a highlight.
“I am so impressed by the collaborative effort led by Lorrie and the tremendous amount of community support JAMM receives,” Peters said. “It was very inspiring to see how the great things happening through JAMM are connected to great things happening in other El Sistema-inspired programs around the country that share a similar mission.”
• Melissa Griffiths can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (907) 523-2272.