NAfME member Danni Schmitt teaches at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore, Maryland, and her students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. She teaches 4-8th grade band as well as 7th grade general music. Of her school’s music program and diverse school population it serves, Danni says,
“There are approximately 1400 students in my school in grades preK-8. Every student in grades preK-5 has access to a general music class once a week for 45 minutes. We begin strings in 3rd grade and band instruments and chorus in 4th grade. In a district that doesn’t show much appreciation for the arts, we are extremely fortunate to have three music teachers.
Our orchestra director teaches 4th-8th grade strings and is half-time in our school and one other school in our district. Our elementary vocal-general music teacher is full time, and in addition to the elementary general music she also runs the elementary chorus and middle school glee club. I am also full-time and teach 4th-8th grade band and 7th grade general music.
She adds, “My colleagues in the music department are amazing! I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything without their help and support!” She also says she gets strong support from school administrators.
Danni shared some teaching obversations:
- I think it’s important to never stop trying to be better. It’s not about winning competitions or doing a ton of performances – it’s about being the best you can. I take as many classes and go to as many workshops as possible so I can always be the best for my students, and try to set that same example for them. I pick music that will both teach them and challenge them, and I let them have a voice in what we play and what performances we do when it’s appropriate.
- I’ve found that my students enjoy themselves more when they can relate to the music we’re playing, so I try to pick music with a story or help them find a way to make a story from what we’re playing. As we learn the story the music takes on new life, and it’s amazing what can create together!
- Once the basics of a new piece are taught, I frequently let older students run sectionals and I guide them towards what they need to discover in their music. A lot of times they surprise me with their insights! They are good at working together and supporting each other because of this system and my older students will often show up after school to help with the younger students’ rehearsals or to meet less experienced players in their sections for a tutoring session.
- I make sure [my students] know how much I appreciate their dedication and the work and time they put in. I think that’s the most important thing I can give my students, whether they’re in band or not – a place to feel they fit and belong. I want to make sure my students know that the band room can be their home at school.
How does Danni’s music program fit into the overall fabric of her school?
She says, “I think it’s about supporting the school. If my principal needs us to play, we do it. If there’s an event at school, we’re happy to be part of it… We frequently perform at our school district headquarters and other venues around the city that request a performing group from the city schools. Our fine arts supervisor knows that we’re always ready when he needs us and my students are always excited to play.”
Danni says school administrators and fellow teachers are very supportive of the Roland Park music program: “The administrators at my school (we have 1 principal and 4 assistant principals) are always at our performances, and my principal even makes it a point to come to assessments with my band. When we went to the state band festival, he was the only principal in attendance, and in past years he has also chaperoned our spring trip. The school doesn’t have much money for our department, but our principal and business manager find a way to make things work. They support our fundraisers and we have an amazing PTA and wonderful alumni organization that are a great help in keeping our music program running.”
Of her professional memberships, Danni says, “NAfME is a great resource for me! I read the website and magazines often and have a lot of back issues that I’ve saved because of all the great ideas and advice. Maryland MEA offers two conferences a year that I attend and does a wonderful job with our state festivals. My students have a great experience every time we are fortunate enough to earn an invitation.”
Danni is a 2017 GRAMMY Music Educator Quarterfinalist.
Roz Fehr, NAfME Member Outreach Specialist, July 28, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org).