For 16 years both Jennifer Youngblood and Rosanna De La Cruz have been teaching young students in San Diego. Many of those years have been spent at Fay Elementary, a majority Hispanic school in the San Diego Unified School District. Both Jennifer and Rosanna teach diverse classes, with many English Language Learner students. Learning how to best reach these students can be a challenge, but through Guitars in the Classroom Jennifer and Rosanna have found that music can be the answer.
Jennifer originally started with GITC in 2010, after seeing an email sent to her school about the organization. She had grown up surrounded by music and even pursued various classes on different instruments, but hadn’t fulfilled her desire to play guitar until starting with GITC. She took a break after a year and a half with the organization, then rejoined with Rosanna 2 years ago.
Rosanna shares that she too had always wanted to play guitar but struggled in classes she took. However, the GITC instruction was a game-changer for her playing, “With Jess’ method, I realized, ‘I can so do this!’ Whereas with other classes I’ve been to it was so overwhelming and very difficult … Jess breaks it down in very manageable steps.”
These teachers integrate music in their classroom in various ways. Writing assignments are made more fun and engaging by learning through songwriting. Both are quick to grab their ukuleles for transitions in the classrooms or brain breaks when their students are in need of a quick “reset.” The students often perform their songs at assemblies or open house nights. All kids are encouraged and engaged by the music, but Jennifer and Rosanna emphasize the difference music integration makes during ELD, English Language Development, time.
“The language learners … are kids that don’t really speak and they don’t want to say anything. But when we start singing, more of them want to sing. I do see them talk more through music … They learn the vocabulary faster … The music really brings that vocabulary alive,” says Jennifer. Music allows language learners to retain new words and ideas more quickly in a way that is interactive and enjoyable. Their participation dramatically increases in lessons that are taught through music. Rosanna shares that her more advanced ELD students also love music integration, “And it’s not just the beginners. I have the early/advanced kids and they also are so engaged.”
These teachers have seen first hand the ability music has to improve the learning experience of students, especially those who are learning English. Jennifer loves seeing the students excited about learning ukulele and asking parents for lessons outside of class. The experiences they are having through the GITC method is creating a passion that goes outside of the classroom. The kids are excited about the music, and Rosanna says that is one of her favorite parts, “I think the best part is definitely the kids’ engagement, excitement, joy … they’re so intrigued and willing to take risks. There’s a big spark that lights up the kids.”
The change Jennifer and Rosanna have seen in their students has made music integration one of the best tools in their classroom. When asked what advice they would give teachers interested in GITC and music integration, they both urge, “Just do it!” They are very familiar with the nervousness that can come with leading a classroom in a music lesson, however, both agree that the benefit outweighs the fear. Rosanna shares, ““The kids love it and they don’t care if you’re a beginning singer like me!” The kids enjoy the music no matter how you sound, and the difference it makes could be life-changing.