1st Graders Blues Band

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As a teacher, how do you help non-native English speaking students assimilate in the classroom, and culture at large, while also helping them learn English? That was the question Garrison Elementary first grade teacher Jon Schwartz faced in his class this year. The San Diego teacher is adept at adopting out-of-the-box approaches to connect with his students and has implemented numerous cutting edge practices over the years to help them be successful in the classroom and in life.
So when Mr. Schwartz saw the struggles of his students this year as they tried to grasp the English language, he sought for an innovative means of connection. Realizing the old classics of “Old MacDonald” and “B-I-N-G-O” had run their course with the first graders in his charge, he decided to try a different tactic. He loaded his iPhone with some good, old-fashioned Blues standards and got those kids rocking!His classroom had shown an interest in music since early in the year and their engagement skyrocketed when Mr. Schwartz implemented it into their daily routines. But there was something about the Blues that really took it to the next step and that seemed to reach the kids on foundational, universal level.

Two experiences encountered by Mr. Schwartz and his blues-loving first graders truly illustrate the phenomenal effects of this program. Early on in the year, a non-English speaking student who had moved to San Diego from Mexico in August struggled with communication and classroom involvement. For months, she had been too shy to speak with her teacher and he had struggled to find ways to reach her while working with her parents and the school’s support staff. One day, a fellow student convinced her to join the classroom’s recently formed “1st Grade Blues Band” and the result was shocking. As Mr. Schwartz says, “...here she was singing ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ in front of the whole class with a HUGE smile on her face. Her peers and the music had emboldened her and she took the leap, speaking English aloud for the first time in class.”

A few months ago, Mr. Schwartz faced a similar situation when an Asian girl moved to San Diego and entered his first grade classroom. Unlike his Spanish-speaking students who have the advantage of interacting with many bilingual teachers and peers, this girl had no one and faced severe cultural and language barriers. As he again worked with the school staff and the girl’s parents, Mr. Schwartz began to recognize the same amazing phenomenon with this girl. She was getting into the Blues and it “had enabled her to overcome her shyness, and she sang with enthusiasm and joy.”

Today, both girls are integral parts of Garrison Elementary’s “1st Grade Blues Band.” In addition to putting on a great show, this band demonstrates irrefutable evidence of the positive role that music plays in education. To find out more about the pedagogy behind music and Mr. Schwartz’s use of music in his classroom, please visit the KidsLikeBlues.org website. And you don’t want to miss watching these incredible kids get their Blues on with a rousing rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago” at their recent talent show. (Click here for the YouTube video and get ready to rock!)