Hall-Dale music teacher David Morris demonstrates different notes on a keyboard to his student, Sam Holsten, while teaching March 30 at his Hallowell home. Public schools across the United States have encouraged teaching over digital platforms since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The music teacher lives with a colleague who teaches music virtually from the home for students attending Richmond’s schools. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

As students transition to schooling from home, music teachers from two central Maine schools have tried to keep their students engaged through online lessons.

Roommates David Morris, a music teacher at Hall-Dale Middle School, and Thea Holman, a music teacher at Richmond Middle and High School, are tailoring their assignments and lessons for their students as schools have closed due to the coronavirus. On Tuesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention confirmed 519 coronavirus cases, and 12 deaths, in the state. The outbreak closed schools and educators promptly transitioned to remote learning practices.

Holman and Morris, both graduates of Ithaca College and first-year teachers, said it’s been a turbulent learning process for them during the outbreak. They said they had experience working with Zoom, a meeting-hosting software that has become essential for local government, from their time in college, giving them a leg-up as classes transitioned online and allowing them to offer advice to their colleagues.

“It’s new for everybody, but having it be your first year of teaching, on top of everything, makes it super confusing,” Holman said. “Even (for) teachers that have been teaching for 10 or 20 years, it’s a challenge.”

Morris said he has been giving students 30-minute, one-on-one lessons via video chat during the outbreak. He said he runs through musical scales and works on a book of lessons, just as the students would do during class. Aside from lessons, Morris is also giving short online assignments on Google Classroom. He said technological limitations are difficult at times, but he has reached about 70% of his students.

“It’s tough to not be in the room with them to help them with the fingering or doing some tricks,” Morris said. “Some kids don’t have access to internet at home or their computer doesn’t work at home.”

Regional School Unit 2 Superintendent Mary Paine, who oversees Hall-Dale and Richmond schools, said teachers and administrators are making regular adjustments to their practices during the outbreak and said it may “take some time to get that balance right.” She lauded the district staff’s “dedication and resourcefulness” during this period.

“Our goal from the start has been to be sensitive to families who may be struggling with all kinds of circumstances during this crisis: unemployment, new childcare and eldercare responsibilities, medical issues, anxiety and fear,” Paine said. “The speed of changes and the escalating health threat has been a lot to react to for school systems.”

Despite the limitations, Morris said the assignments have been well-received by students. He said many of his students signed up for a lesson during the second week he has offered them.

“They seem like they’re starting to grasp new things,” Morris said. “They’re being able to be more independent.”

Sam Holsten, a 12-year-old sixth-grader from Hallowell, said she takes flute and piano lessons from Morris via video chat. She said his lessons vary slightly from other teachers, who record themselves doing lessons and then assign work based on those videos.

“It’s a little bit harder because you don’t have a teacher’s guidance,” Holsten said. “If you have questions, you can contact (the teacher).”

Holsten said one drawback of schooling from home is the lack of sports and clubs, which she said a lot of her friends were looking forward to participating in this spring.

Richmond music teacher Thea Holman demonstrates how to make a note on a clarinet to a student attending class via video chat while teaching March 30 from her Hallowell home. Public schools across the United States have encouraged teaching over digital platforms since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Holman said some teachers at her school are having trouble getting responses from all of their students. She said there has only been one deadline set for work so far, but with the nature of the outbreak changing every day, deadlines might get extended or disappear altogether based on guidelines from school officials.

“Things change every day and a lot of it isn’t really up to us,” Holman said. “If we get a notice from our principal or superintendent about our policies, it’s kind of out of our control.”

She said her students are enjoying posting videos of themselves playing instruments to a shared Google Classroom page. Holman said these videos show that the students are still interested in playing, even if they don’t sign up for video lessons.

Music could be lower on the educational totem than standard courses, like math and science, she said. Keeping that in mind, Holman said she tailored her assignments to be short, meaning kids will have time to do them between their more pressing assignments.

Morris said his assignments have been designed to be fun, like listening to their favorite song and writing a short journal entry about it.

“It’s a way for them to get out of reading and writing all of these things, and bring happiness into their lives,” he said.

Holsten said that keeping music in her class rotation was important and she was going to sign up for more music lessons when they become available.

“It’s important because music is very important in other people’s lives and in my life,” she said. “I’m going to start signing up for chorus classes to keep my imagination going with the music.”

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