Surprise! New Year, New Program.
After a decade at the same school, it was time to start a new chapter. Over the summer, I made the transition to a new school, and I'm so excited to share all of the details with you!
Where did I move to?
I'm staying in the same county, but moved to a different district. It's actually closer to my house! Currently, the school ISN'T a middle school...it's an intermediate school housing grades 5 and 6. The district is currently undergoing a lot of growth, so they are building new schools, renovating and adding on to current schools, and finally shifting things around so that all elementary schools will house k-5, and all middle schools will house 6-8. I'm coming in on the ground floor of what will be a 6-8 middle school program in 2 years. It's an exciting opportunity!
What's the current program setup?
While the building is still technically an intermediate school, the schedule reflects a cross between elementary and middle school levels. Band and Orchestra have year long classes, while Drama, Music (that's me), and Art are on a trimester rotation. Before I started, my classes were treated like an elementary-style general music class. Each class is 40 minutes long. Choir has only been held after school.
This is a huge change for me, especially coming from a situation where I've been teaching all choir, all day, at an established program. But, I'm planning on using these transition years to my advantage.
My goals for these first two years are:
Get student interest in choir
Recruit and retain as much as possible
Establish infrastructure and framework for the program
My ideas on how I'm going to accomplish these goals are below.
Get student interest in Choir
The good news is that my new district seems very supportive of fine arts. The only thing that makes it a little challenging is that it's very band heavy. So, I've got to work to help shift that balance a little bit.
I'm fully expecting that I'll be stuck on a trimester rotation until we officially become a middle school. I'm planning on using that as an opportunity for as much positive exposure as possible. To start, I've changed the structure of the classes already from general music based to choir. I'm taking things slow and easy, and trying to make it as low pressure as possible, because:
This was previously an instrumental based music class. They didn't sing at all.
None of these kids signed up to sing. They just thought they were singing up for a general music class.
Class needs to be fun, engaging, and not scary. I've already started with my usual monthly class competitions, and this week they had their first Karaoke Friday. No need to completely start from scratch when you've already got systems that you can adapt to fit your new situation!
Speaking of adapting, because of the shorter class time (it's 10 minutes less than I'm used to), I've decided to shorten the amount of questions I have on the board at the beginning of class. I don't need to take up too much time with review when I can get them singing instead. I've also had to modify how I assess my students, because since I'm pseudo-elementary, I don't currently give grades at all. I've changed instead to a weekly self-assessment (I'll tell you more about that, soon).
So you might be asking "how's it going with getting them to sing so far?"
My answer: "Not too bad!"
Recruit and Retain as much as possible
In addition to making class as engaging as possible, I've also got some other plans up my sleeve to help recruit and retain kids as I work on building the program. Since the after school choir already existed, I'm going to work on beefing it up.
The huge advantage of having the after school choir is that I can get students from other fine arts classes that wouldn't otherwise have a chance to be in choir . For now, I'd like to keep the after school program for that reason
I've made two big changes so far to after school choir:
No auditions. I feel like auditions are a barrier that scares kids with a lot of potential away from joining choir because they worry they aren't "good enough."
Rehearsals are going to be two days a week instead of 1.
As of right now, I've got around 45 students signed up, and rehearsals begin this week!
I also want to work on establishing relationships with the elementary programs while I've got a foot in the door. Those younger students are more likely to sing in my program if they know me, and have seen what our choir does.
Establish infrastructure and framework for the program
All summer, I worked on making a list of basic things I felt I would need to establish a new program:
I've been slowly chipping away at each building block. I started with a logo first, and I probably put waaayyy to much thought in it. But since this is something new, I really wanted to take the time to think about how I want the program to present itself to the community, and how I want my students to feel when as a part of my choir.
The logo I came up with is above. I wanted something that I could adapt with or without text, looked like an abstract choir, but most of all represents the idea that choir is for all shapes, sizes, and colors. Canva for the win!
While I'm all about using what you've got, the more I tried to make my old handbook work, the more I realized that I needed to rewrite it to fit this new situation. After doing some research, I ended up modeling my new handbook after what I found on several well-known children's choir websites. I'll share more on that soon!
The school didn't have social media pages already for the choir program, but that was an easy fix. Feel free to follow if you'd like on Instagram and Facebook at Beech Springs Choirs.
I'm re-working the website model I had for my previous program, and hope to have it going soon. As for the other things, those are still in development. I do already have an amusement park trip scheduled for the end of the year to help recruit!
What I hope you'll get from this
After showing you what I've been doing in a well-established program, I'm hoping to show that you can go into any situation and build something worthwhile that your students will love being a part of. Sure, there are going to be a lot of bumps along the way with this "building a program kind of from scratch" thing, but I'm going to share as much of the ride with you as I can so that we can learn and grow together!