When he began college Andy Klima envisioned himself as a music administrator, perhaps at the high-school level. However, after a few enjoyable months of teaching young students at Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception School, he might be altering his career path.
“Kindergartners have really changed my whole perspective on things. I had so much fun with them,” said Klima, 20.
He is part of a longstanding link between Ithaca College and Immaculate Conception: For the past 55 years, the college’s students and faculty have operated the school’s music program.
“We are the music curriculum. There is no (paid) music teacher (at Immaculate Conception), nor has there ever been. It’s really a beautiful win-win situation. Immaculate Conception provides the children and the space, and Ithaca College provides all the teachers and the equipment,” said Verna Brummett, a music-education professor from the college who oversees the student-teaching program.
According to Brummett, the operation involves 20 to 30 college students per school year who each log two days a week at Immaculate Conception, a facility for grades pre-kindergarten through 8 and the only Catholic school in Tompkins County. The collegians are music-education and/or performance majors who teach the youngsters while being overseen by Ithaca College faculty members and graduate assistants.
The curriculum introduces young students to many classical composers and “the pop genre to a lesser degree,” Brummett said. She added that the music taught “comes from all over the world. They’ll sing songs in Spanish, Swahili, French, Zulu, Latin — it’s very broad-based.”
Although the music program is primarily for vocal education, Brummett noted that the college also provides an introduction to such instruments as hand chimes, recorder and guitar. In addition, college students coordinate Immaculate Conception’s choirs for boys and girls in grades 6-8. The school’s efforts from the first semester were put on display during a Christmas concert and pageant held Dec. 6 in the Immaculate Conception gymnasium, and the next big show is scheduled for Thursday, April 6, at 7 p.m. at the Ford Auditorium on the Ithaca College campus.
Two members of the female choir gave a big thumbs-up to the guidance and instruction they have received thus far from the young-adult teachers.
“I like how they’re always really open to doing new things. They communicate with the class and help me understand things better, said Devin Case, 13, an eighth-grader, saying that she has received valuable assistance “with the different parts of alto and soprano, how your voice is supposed to sound, how you’re suppose to be louder and softer.”
“They help me see the music in a different way. I’m a pianist, and I always see how thing would be on a keyboard, but now I see them differently as I’m singing,” added Hannah Wilson, 11, a sixth-grader.
Hannah said she also likes the fact that her instructors are relatively close to her age.
“It seems like I can understand where they’re coming from more than the other teachers. I understand the attitude,” she said.
Diana Oravec, Immaculate Conception’s principal, remarked that the collegians “bring a fresh outlook. You always get good ideas from new teachers.”
The program is of great value to the novice instructors as well.
“It’s unique — I’m getting an opportunity to take a class and teach (at the same time),” said Klima, a junior who is in his first year of student teaching.
Klima added that his teaching experience actually helps him as a vocalist, making him carefully think through the overall process.
“Communication between a teacher and classroom, and a performer and audience — they’re more related than one might think,” said Klima, a music-education and performance major who taught kindergartners last semester and is now working with the male choir. He belongs to the Ithaca College Catholic Community and sings in its choir.
Oravec said that despite their relative inexperience, the teachers-in-training come across as thorough professionals.
“It’s amazing, the sound they produce. They seem to bring out the best of (the children’s) musical abilities,” Oravec said.