Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Giulia's Final Day - Sylvia Interview

Dear All,

I found this blog post languishing in the depths of my email, buried under numerous correspondences and hidden amongst the spam. This is Giulia's final blog post- an interview with Sylvia Carlson, our Nucleo Director of our program in Albany Park. I am so glad that Giulia chose to join our family, even briefly- she help us launch the year, working with both of our sites and providing a look into what it is to discover the YOURS Project. She gave the kids the opportunity to work with someone from Italy. For me, foreign countries always seemed imaginary when I was younger, but now, I'm sure that Italy is very real to the students who Giulia impacted.

Thank you Giulia! You will always have a home in Chicago!
Albert Oppenheimer
YOURS Project Director
People's Music school

Our guest blogger and volunteer from Italy, Giulia Molteni, reflects on her time with the YOURS Project:


Last but not least, I'd like to introduce you Sylvia Carlson, the YOURS Project Nucleo Director at Hibbard Elementary School.

Giulia: Sylvia, my time here with the YOURS Project is ending. We shared three weeks together that were completely different from each other! We started this journey at Hibbard with the amazing YOURS Project High School Intern Workshop and it was inspiring to deal with these helpful young students. Then, the YOURS Project finally started, although in a state of uncertainty, due to the Chicago Teachers Union Strike. Now the classes are run regularly in the afternoon, but as you told me, I've been here at the most difficult time for the program, because lot of things have just changed and there are many desicions to make. How do you feel at the beginning of this challenging school year?

Sylvia: Well, honestly, I feel a lot like I did at the start of the last school year when the new program at Monroe began. There are so many similarities. I'm coming into an exisiting music program (at Monroe they had instrumental classes there already during the school day), and I'm dealing with the set ways and personalities of the people who are already there. I feel that some changes need to be made in order to make the most out of our resources and I am working with quite varied skill levels all in one class because of budget constraints. At Monroe we were able to make this work, although it took awhile, and developed some talented student leaders who really stepped up and helped out all the time without even being asked. At Hibbard the different skill levels used to be almost completely separated into three orchestras all the time except for rare peer teaching episodes. I want to make peer teaching a core component of the program. So to make the most use of our resources and to encourage peer teaching, we have combined the two smaller, beginning orchestras at Hibbard and plan to have three levels of peer teaching happening; the more advanced beginners will mentor the less advanced beginners in one unified orchestra, the advanced orchestra students will be enlisted to help out the sectional teachers with the beginning orchestra, and our newly trained high school interns will be helping out with teaching everyone else in the program.

G: In agreeing to become the new Nucleo Director of this project you, have taken on a big responsibility. There are lot of things to take in account: administration, policy, schedule, but, above all, education, students, and teachers. At the faculty meeting we spoke a lot about these issues. What are your thoughts and plans?

S: I would like to create an educational structure and a teaching and learning culture at Hibbard that is recognizable, well-defined, and securely ingrained. The first few years of a program, especially one that has funding challenges, are bound to be somewhat chaotic and inconsistent.
I'm going to work ceaslessly to define a curriculum (a flexible one, but still one that has structure), a standard repertoire and organized library, a code of conduct that emphasizes respect for everyone, compassionate disciplinary measures that ensure that all students have the chance to learn.
The time consuming part of this is that it will not work if I try to create a battery of rules on my own and force them on everyone. I need to start by creating a truly collaborative environment, one where teachers and students know that they are a part of the process.
This will take awhile, and it might seem like no progress is being made at first, but then, perhaps seemingly overnight, the way a child becomes an adolescent, there will materialize a structure and a culture that is all our own.

G: Would you like to share with us some of your previous experiences within the YOURS Project?

S: There are so many! I'll try to choose a few that illustrate a broad range of experiences.
A couple of years ago, about mid-way through my time at Hibbard, I experienced severe behavior problems from a child in one of my large, mixed- instrument classes. The class was full of beginners, and I was dealing with oboes, clarinet, flutes, brass, and percussion all at the same time. It was quite challenging already, but this one child's behavior made class almost impossible. I had talked to the director of the project about it, but things did not improve. Eventually I wondered if I would even be abe to continue teaching for the project under the circumstances, and so I mentioned this fear to the director. So she called the student's father and explained to him the situation and asked him to come to class with his child. Fortunately, he was able to do this and it made all the difference in the world! The father helped with everything, setting up chairs and stands, sending messages, monitoring breaks, and, of course, keeping his son's behavior in check. Finally I was able to have class and I had a collaborator in the room with me. It was this experience, and the knowledge that many teachers at Hibbard are struglling with similar circumstances, that led me to bring a parent room-monitor sign-up sheet to the parent meeting at Hibbard last night, and me and this same father, were able to explain to the other parents how useful this is, and to encourage them to sign up to attend classes.

Last year at Monroe, after we had only been having classes for about three months, we were able to put on a full concert that included several original full orchestra arrangements that were written specifically for our mixed ability level ensemble, and student and teacher chamber groups. We really had an evening of music put together in a very short amount of time with about 35 kid, thanks to the hard work of all the teachers, students, and parents at Monroe. That was certainly a highlight of my time with the YOURS Project.

And, of course, being back at Hibbard and seeing all of my old students so grown up and so much improved on their instruments, and so helpful with all of the younger kids. This is truly a pleasure.

And finally, I would just like to say thank you to you, Giulia, for taking this time to spend with us. You have brought invaluable insight from a point of view that is in no way personally invested in the program. You have shown infinite kindess and patience with us and have been a true joy to have around. We will miss you!

-Giulia Molteni 

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