Felicia Fis is a beacon of kindness, compassion and creativity in her work with Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom and as a school psychologist in San Diego Unified. This summer, Felicia presented a deeply moving and effective workshop to participants in our teacher retreat in Julian, called "Taking in the Good." Wherever she is- with children, colleagues or GITC community members- her knowledge, her beautiful spirit, her voice and her comfort on guitar are pure inspiration!
Felicia is now helping other GITC teachers and specialists understand how music can become a force for teaching calm and self-regulation in all classrooms. Specific behavioral strategies were once primarily in the domain of special education, but now all classrooms are embracing students with a variety of educational and social emotional challenges as part of a more inclusive approach. That means general classroom teachers want to learn exactly what Felicia teaches.
“There are so many opportunities for students to feel overwhelmed in an inclusive classroom,” remarks Jess Baron, GITC Executive Director. “Waiting, going through transitions between activities, coping with overwhelming sound and visual stimuli, mediating conflicts with peers- any of these experiences can trigger students to become overwhelmed, frustrated, or even angry. Learning to work through those feelings in a classroom setting is a big job. And making music with students provides a very positive, natural medium for developing a wide range of self-regulation self-soothing strategies."
Felicia agrees. She believes that every student has the potential to participate successfully in music. “One misconception about children with disabilities and social-emotional issues is that they don’t like sensory experiences -- when the truth is, they seek them out,” she explains. “If they are playing instruments and making the sounds, it is not dis-regulating. Instead, it regulates them because it’s tactile, visual, and auditory all at the same time.”
As a school psychologist at Valencia Park and Paradise Hills elementary schools, Felicia works with many kids with physical challenges, social-emotional issues, and behavioral issues. Her room is full of instruments, and she has seen first-hand the incredible impact that playing them has on her students.
“One student had significant behavioral challenges but he wanted to play guitar. Being able to come to my room and play guitar became a huge incentive for good behavior, and it had a ripple effect. Other kids started asking to play,” explains Felicia.
In June, she attended GITC’s 2-day conference in AMAISE (Adapted Music for Achievement in Inclusion and Special Education), an experience she found to be both empowering and inspiring. The conference included hands-on adapted instrument training on drums, ukulele, guitar, and Beamz interactive music system, as well as instruction on how to write lyrics for learning and social-emotional development. “The songwriting piece is amazing,” Felicia explains. “Students with special needs feel SO proud when they write a song. They have utilized their strengths, their creativity and their expressive language to create something valuable. You can see immediately that their confidence has been boosted.”
Felicia describes her work with GITC as “satisfying and fulfilling.” She hopes that more teachers will join the movement and they are -- because she’s recruiting them in droves! She is also witnessing students who didn’t want to go to school now feeling excited to attend because music is a part of their day.
“Music and art are important. They open parts of people’s brains that other things don’t,” she says. “I’m always trying to figure out new ways to bridge music and learning.”
BETTER LEARNING THROUGH MUSIC:
Guitars in the Classroom Receives Grant from The NAMM Foundation
San Diego, CA – September 17, 2019 — Do you hear the sound of happy strummers and singers in schools around the U.S.? Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom (GITC) has once again been named a grant recipient of The NAMM Foundation. “It is because of this special foundation, their support and guidance of grantees, that we got our lift off and have been able to improve and grow our work so steadily over the past 13 years,” says GITC founder and Executive Director, Jess Baron.
GITC is a19 year-old educational non-profit that trains, equips and empowers teachers and school staff to integrate academic and social learning with hands on music and student songwriting across the curriculum. The organization was selected as one of 28 music-making organizations to receive a grant to fund vital programs that provide access to music-making opportunities across a variety of different communities and demographics.
“Through the transformative work of these organizations, thousands of people will discover or advance their love and desires for making music,” said Mary Luehrsen, Executive Director of The NAMM Foundation. “And these projects also advance new music learning experiences and capacity – all essential for creating more music makers.”
The grants serve to underscore the Foundation’s mission to advance participation in music making and offer quality access to all people. As one of 28 recipients, Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom will utilize The NAMM Foundation’s support to fund Adaptive Music for Achievement in Inclusion and Special Education (AMAISE) training, after school professional development courses for teachers, classroom teaching artist residencies, and music educator workshops in integrating ukulele and guitar instruction in general music programs.
Jess Baron explains the significance of this grant with long-term perspective:
“When we started our work in 2000, the idea of teaching academic subjects through the power of music was considered a revolutionary concept. There was no research to support the assertion that students could make significant linguistic, cognitive, emotional or academic gains through the integration of hands-on music with standards-based instruction across the curriculum. Now studies connecting music education with these positive outcomes are pouring in! But in the beginning, the idea of training teachers with scant musical experience to lead this integration in their own classrooms raised many eyebrows. Despite this, NAMM saw the potential to create more musical access for children during their most formative years. They believed in our mission and offered to help.
Fast forward to 2019 and 14,000 GITC-trained teachers later, strategic songs and student songwriting with guitars and ukuleles are playing a significant role in learning across the curriculum. The NAMM Foundation has helped GITC design and build a complementary, mutually beneficial relationship between Music Integration and Music Education in our GITC-participating schools. We are so grateful for this grant to support more GITC professional development and teaching artists residencies, which will bring hands-on musical learning to Literacy and Learning for 120,000 elementary students in 2019-2020.”
Since its inception in 1994, The NAMM Foundation’s annual grant program has donated more than $18 million in support to domestic and international music education programs, scientific research, advocacy and public service programs related to music-making. The grants are funded in part by donations from the National Association of Music Merchants and its 10,400 member companies worldwide.
About Guitars in the Classroom
Guitars in the Classroom is a 19 year-old educational non-profit organization dedicated to creating access to musical learning for all students. Our work strives to improve the quality of teaching and learning through the power of song education through the provision of ongoing musical training, coaching and resources for educators. We train, supply and empower teachers who wish to lead and integrate hands-on music with lessons in English language arts, math, science, social studies and more. Our work promotes student engagement and achievement, teacher effectiveness, and it nurtures 21st Century Learning Skills through collaborative music making and student songwriting for learning.
About The NAMM Foundation
The NAMM Foundation is a nonprofit organization funded in part by the National Association of Music Merchants and its 10,400 members. The Foundation’s mission is to advance active participation in music making across the lifespan by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving and public service programs. For more information about The NAMM Foundation, please visit www.nammfoundation.org.