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A Perfect Duet: Ithaca College and local schools make beautiful music together

Written by Mia Jackson

Photos by Bill Truslow

It’s Monday at 12:30 p.m., and juniors in Ithaca’s music education program have taken over four classrooms at the Immaculate Conception
School downtown.

In room 203, Daniel Mahoney ’11 and Caitlin Henning ’11 try to get their fifth and sixth grade guitar students to make a smooth transition from a C chord to an F.

Down the hall, Laura Gladd ’11 and Adrianne Wood ’11 lead a choral ensemble. Downstairs in the pre-K room, Donald Haviland ’11 moves a stuffed elephant from one little child’s head to the next, singing “Willabee, Wallabee, Woo.”

Ithaca College music education student teacher

And around the corner in room 105, Brendan Kimball ’11 leads another group of prekindergartners in singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

Of the many music education partnerships Ithaca has with other schools, the relationship with Immaculate Conception is the longest-standing, going back to 1946, when the two schools were just a few blocks away from each other.

And unlike other area schools where IC students contribute to the music program, at Immaculate Conception these students are the music program.

Ithaca College music education student teacher

Associate professor Jennifer Haywood ’94, who was once a student teacher and then a graduate mentor at Immaculate Conception, now oversees the program. What she liked about it then -- “the opportunity as an undergraduate to fully experience singing, conducting, and teaching with equal opportunity for scholarship and artistry” -- still applies today.

Last spring David Cruz ’10 completed this rigorous yearlong experience at Immaculate Conception, which he said was great preparation for a career in teaching. “I’ve learned a lot about patience,” he laughs, “especially with the younger students. I learned you have to give twice the energy to make students really respond to you and want to learn the lesson.”

Kimball, though only a month into his Immaculate Conception teaching, agrees.

“I teach pre-K, which can be difficult. One of the best and the hardest things that I’ve learned is that they will give back exactly what you give to them!” But he feels prepared. “The education program here is very positive and encouraging.”

Cruz says his first teaching experience --  with fifth and sixth graders -- was “nerve-racking.” In the end, though, he was impressed with his students and his efforts as a teacher.

“The way the students responded is something that stuck out to me,” he recalls. “The feeling of respect that I gained from them really made me feel confident that I could teach them and that they wanted to learn from me. It made and continues to make me look forward to teaching.”

Even as juniors, these students aren’t going in cold. “Unlike other student teaching programs,” says Professor Keith Kaiser, who’s chaired the music education department for seven years, “our students participate in fieldwork during all four years of their undergraduate degree, including a major student teaching experience during the junior year.”

The first two years are dedicated to foundational study. Freshmen and sophomores also take Music Field Experience courses to observe teachers. Then as juniors, the real fun begins -- fieldwork.

It’s Tuesday at 11:00 a.m., so the third-floor lobby of the Whalen Music Center is rapidly filling with IC music education students. Some are carrying two or three instrument cases; others have posters they’ll use as teaching aids.

They look more like young professionals than college students: no jeans, no T-shirts, no baseball caps, no flip-flops. The men are in coat and tie; the women in dresses, skirts, or dress pants. As teachers, they need to look the part.

A different group of students will head down to Immaculate Conception today, while others head off to four different elementary and middle schools across the county to give one-on-one instrumental lessons.

By senior year, when IC student teachers have to lead classes without the benefit of daily on-site supervision and mentoring by College faculty, students from most music programs are in front of a classroom for the first time.

But for Ithaca seniors, whose placements span the state from outside Buffalo to Long Island, running a class is old hat.

This year, Cruz starts an internship at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School in Ithaca, teaching second through fifth grade music classes, and he feels more than prepared.

“Having the junior student teaching program is definitely a plus,” he says. “At some schools, a senior teaching program is all that’s required, and you don’t have any prior experience.”

This intense preparation pays off: While many music education majors continue on to master’s programs, every single one who’s actively looked for a job teaching music has found employment within a year of graduating from IC.

Yet another reason that, as Professor Kaiser says, the music education program at Ithaca “is universally recognized as one of the, if not the, finest in the country.”



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