30,000 students from all over the San Diego Unified School District took a journey into in-person learning this summer as participants in the district’s new program, Level Up San Diego, funded by federal ESSER support for pandemic recovery. Students could enroll in a.m. summer school focused on learning recovery, and in a variety of summer enrichment opportunities such as outdoor activities, Arts classes, or STEAM-related programs, offered by 65 organizations.
Many students participated in both morning and afternoon activities intended to restore joy and inspire a passion for returning to learning. Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom (GITC) was honored and excited to be among the first organizations included in this opportunity, made possible because of grant support from The San Diego Foundation. Thanks to the local partnership, we were able to provide music instruction integrated with arts and crafts and literacy enrichment on seven SDUSD summer school campuses, as well as online for students ages 3 through 18. We called our programs Summer Strummers Clubs so students felt a sense of belonging to something special… and parents are reporting that they really did!
To fully staff GITC’s Level Up SD: A Summer of Learning and Joy, we expanded our faculty, bringing on amazing, highly qualified public school teachers and specialists from Vista, San Diego and Chula Vista as our Club Leaders, and interns in support positions in education and music programs from SDUSD, Cal State San Marcos, Point Loma Nazarene University, and Grossmont College! It “took a village,” to staff our clubs, and that village extended to the boundaries of San Diego County!
But one Summer Strummers Club Leader wanted her young club members to experience even more of the world. Mimi Seney, the Monday afternoon Club Leader at Euclid Elementary, took her students on a musical journey around the world! Assisted by her intern, Mr. Gilbert, himself a middle school math teacher at Logan Memorial Educational Campus (LMEC), Mrs. Seney brought the world into her classroom through the power of international music and crafts. Club members travelled to the UK, Italy, Greece, South Africa, Japan, Hawaii and more, learning about each country’s culture, flag, and music -- all within the span of four weeks!
“Each student received their own passport, which got stamped along the way,” explains Mrs. Seney, who has been active with GITC for about seven years. “At each stop, the kids colored pages with facts about the country or flag, which were made into a travel journal to take home. And each week, we talked about the music that comes from each culture and learned a new song on ukulele.”
Mrs. Seney also helped each student create a “Strumming Flat Stanley” - a paper cutout inspired by the Jeff Brown children’s book series Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventures Students were encouraged to take photos of their Strumming Flat Stanley at various locations around town or on family outings and share them with the group. “The kids love to see Stanley out and about, even if he’s just at Starbucks,” she explains.
This is Mrs. Seney’s first year joining GITC as a faculty member, but she began learning to lead and integrate music the GITC way as a teacher for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students at San Diego County’s Davila Day School. “I started by taking courses with GITC instructor Dan Decker and quickly got into it,” she explains. “I was a pianist and guitar player, not a uke player. At the time, most of my preschool students were non-verbal or just acquiring language. GITC’s approach was a great fit for that and I was immediately hooked. After teaching preschool, I decided to move into working with an older, more diverse group of students at a youth detention center. These days I teach math and science and integrate music, including after-school ukulele and keyboard classes at the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility, and I just love it!”
Mrs. Seney has also enjoyed her role as a Summer Strummers Club Leader. “It was something so different and healing for all of us.”