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The enriching power of music

Second-graders Mialani Morgan and Rebecca Bailey practice playing a pattern on the percussion instruments in Suzanne Burton’s class at Esquire Hills Elementary School. All elementary school students in the district take a general music class. - Photo by Valentina Petrova
Second-graders Mialani Morgan and Rebecca Bailey practice playing a pattern on the percussion instruments in Suzanne Burton’s class at Esquire Hills Elementary School. All elementary school students in the district take a general music class.
— image credit: Photo by Valentina Petrova

All of Esquire Hills Elementary School students pass through Suzanne Burton’s classroom on a weekly basis. She has been the music teacher there since 1997 and all elementary-age pupils in the school district take a general music class.

“She’s really a gift to our school,” said principal Sandra Horst. “She doesn’t just teach kids how to sing, she teaches them history of famous musicians ... she is engaging the whole mind of the child when she teaches.”

In Burton’s classroom, students in the first through sixth grades learn singing, how to perform instruments, how to improvise melodies, and work on elemental reading and writing of music notes. They also spend time on music appreciation and listening and incorporate movement into their studies such as marching to a steady beat to some dance elements.

Thursday morning a group of second-graders were working on a crossing pattern on a series of Orff instruments — xylophones and metallophones.

Crossing their arms over when tapping on the percussion instruments, the kids were getting it. The pattern had confused and frustrated some older students Burton had attempted to teach the same technique.

The teacher explained to her students that the peculiar experience they had playing that way was good for their brains.

Exercises like the second-graders’ Thursday morning lesson help develop motor skills and coordination. And the elementary music program, in general, also helps with decoding (when they learn how to read notes), creativity and self-expression, Burton says. Music also is a great emotional outlet for kids.

It is important to gain the musical foundation at the elementary grade level “to get an appreciation of music for music’s sake,” she said.

All 14 elementary schools in the CK School District have general music teachers and those staff members double-up as choir instructors.

Each school also has a band program while eight offer an additional orchestra program.

Choir is a before- or after-school gathering while instrumental program students who choose to participate meet with a teacher for 30 minutes during the school day.

For before-school choir rehearsals, Burton has opened the doors to students in third through sixth grade, when most other schools in the

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