Written by Sarah Cusey, GITC Programs Coordinator
“You’re never too old,” proclaimed Julia Cole, kindergarten teacher at Murray Manor Elementary in the La Mesa Spring Valley School District, with a youthful laugh. Although you’d never know it by looking at her, Julia has been teaching for 21 years, and she is adamant that the Guitars in the Classroom training she attended last summer was just the boost she needed to reignite her teaching practice. Julia says the 3-day intensive workshop, facilitated by Dan Decker, was the BEST training she has ever participated in. Dan made the learning fun and accessible, and Julia was immediately overflowing with ideas about how she could use what she had learned in her classroom.
Julia’s parents were both educators and enrolled her in her first music class when she was three years old. She then went on to play the cello from 4th grade through junior college. Since then, she has kept her love of music alive by taking lessons as an adult, but this passion of hers has remained in its own compartment, largely separated from her teaching…until now.
When Julia discovered a way for her young students to engage with music and ukuleles at their level through open tuning, she was over the moon. Julia created a Donor’s Choose campaign and had a class set of instruments in no time. If you’re in Ms. Cole’s class, ukuleles, egg shakers, rhythm sticks, boomwhackers, cowbells, triangles and castanets have become a part of your everyday experience. Julia has even implemented a musician and visual artist of the month program. Her students get to experience some of “the greats” and create music and art inspired by their masterpieces.
Julia notes that there is a wide range of ability in kindergarten. Some students are completely new to the school setting and the practice of academic learning, while others are already beginning to read. Although her goal is to help all her students get to where they need to be by the end of the year, Julie wants each and every one of them to feel successful along the way. Students who do not excel immediately in the academic arena can experience success in music. This boosts their confidence and supports their learning in other areas.
During a recent visit to Ms. Cole’s room during music time, Macy shared her thoughts on musical education with Guitars in the Classroom, “I was excited when I first used the ukulele. I felt like there was music inside of me. My favorite thing is playing music.” Shawn proclaimed, “Music makes me feel calm and really happy”, while Ryley added that music makes her feel inspired.
Julia Cole has quickly become a spokesperson for Guitars in the Classroom and expanded her reach beyond the four walls of her classroom. When KSON radio invited GITC to share about their classes funded by the CMA Foundation, Julia bravely volunteered to get on the radio with GITC director Jess Baron and her own instructor, Dan Decker. Here is the link to that interview, Julia’s first time on the air. http://www.kson.com/blogs/john-tammy-morning/guitars-classroom.
All kindergarten students at Murray Manor spend a little time each day rotating from classroom to classroom, and what do you suppose the students do while they are with Ms. Cole? Why, music, of course! Julia recently presented to her staff, while playing her guitar, about the benefits of GitC with the hope of expanding access to music beyond her grade level. “I have no problem speaking in front of students, but adults are another story,” she confessed. However, having such a strong passion for this program has pushed her to take a risk and share her excitement with her peers. Two of her colleagues have already enrolled in GitC’s after school training classes; Julia’s enthusiasm is contagious.
The idea that it’s never too late to find your passion and share it with others is something Julia is instilling in her two teenage daughters, as well. She believes that you don’t even have to be that great at something, you just have to love it enough that it naturally flows out of you and into the lives of others. Julia picks up her ukulele or guitar in the evenings to try out what she is learning through her teaching and the ongoing tiered, free training that GitC offers teachers throughout San Diego. Her daughters have begun to spend time practicing and experimenting with Julia, providing an unexpected benefit in the form of a bonding opportunity for her family. As for Guitars in the Classroom, we couldn’t be more grateful for our newest self-proclaimed “walking billboard”. Keep up the great work, Julia! We’re with you and rooting for your students and your daughters all the way!