By Abby Dorsey
When GITC Faculty Trainer and Teaching Artist, Jefferson Jay, talks about Patti Steele, one of the kindergarten teachers he works with at Paradise Hills Elementary, his entire face lights up.
“She’s just awesome,” he says. “I think she might actually be a superhero.”
As a Faculty Trainer, Jefferson helps teachers like Ms. Steele incorporate Guitars in the Classroom curriculum into their teaching on a daily basis. The job fits his personality perfectly, because he is outgoing, funny, and supportive – part music-instructor, but also part cheerleader. Jefferson teaches 22 teaching artist residency classes with GITC each week, in five different schools. He finds the work he does training and supporting the classroom teachers to be exceptionally rewarding.
This week, Ms. Steele’s class is working on a unit about goal setting, based on the book Pogo Pig Learns About Goal Setting by Bryan Sommer and Lindsay Nahmiache. After the students pick out ukuleles, they take their spots on the classroom’s colorful carpet. Then with ukulele in hand, Ms. Steele leads them through a song they’ve written together to explore the theme. Collaborative student songwriting on academic and social-emotional topics is one hallmark of GITC’s innovative approach to help students build literacy skills and language proficiency.
“Set a goal. Make a plan. Practice, practice, practice – I know you can!” the students sing enthusiastically, while strumming along. This simple, repetitive message helps the students break down the goal setting process into manageable steps, and the tune is catchy! Jefferson can’t help but sing and strum, too.
But Jefferson remembers a day when even star-teacher, Patti Steele, was struggling. “I got to her class and she was kind of frustrated. The kindergartners were wearing her out a little bit, but she said ‘I’ve got this song…’”
Ms. Steele was referring to the first song she had ever written on her own – an assignment she’d just completed for Jefferson’s second semester GITC guitar class. She was nervous to perform it for the children but Jefferson encouraged her to go for it. And in front of a carpet full of wide-eyed kindergartners, Patti Steele sang her very first song!
The song changed her whole mood because the kids were into it and she was getting good feedback,” explains Jefferson.
“I gave her some tips and had her sing it a few times in a row, and the kids loved it. Towards the end of class, we even sent the kids to write their own songs from scratch because they were inspired. It was a great class.”
As a longtime musician, open-mic host and champion of the San Diego music scene, Jefferson knows a great performance when he sees it. When he’s not teaching GITC classes, he coordinates the San Diego Music Hall of Fame, and is developing the first animated musical featuring all special needs actors. But it’s GITC teachers like Patti Steele that really have his heart.
“My favorite part is finding a place to connect with the teachers,” explains Jefferson. “And knowing that all the future students down the line will benefit.”