A giant Frosty, Hanukkah candles and Kwanzaa

A giant Frosty, Hanukkah candles and Kwanzaa

I remember the day well.

Rushing to my son’s first elementary school holiday sing-along — late as usual — I rounded the corner and came face to face with a 6-foot snowman.

He had the corncob pipe and old silk hat, but this Frosty wasn’t made of snow. And the eyes peering out definitely resembled those of a certain South Side Elementary School dad.

I ran inside, joining the throngs of moms and dads and grandparents singing along to Frosty’s anthem, while he danced outside the gym windows, drawing screams of delight from the younger kids.

The event is a December tradition at South Side, one of those moments that pulls the school community together.

Any child performance brings out hordes of parents juggling cameras, recorders and phones — which, in my case, usually have low batteries and/or full memory Blog Photocards. (I typically spent the first part of the program deleting old files so I could snap at least one shot of my son or daughter. Thank goodness my friends record everything.)

But there was something special about the sing-along. The whole school would crowd into the gym/cafeteria/auditorium, with kids sitting cross-legged on the floor, relatives lining the perimeter, and our music teacher playing piano in front — like a giant, crazy family party.

We’d all sing the songs we knew, and hum along to the ones we didn’t. Some touched on Christmas — “Silver Bells,” “Rudolph,” “O Tannenbaum” — but the program also featured songs from Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or other traditions, such as “Light the Candles” or “Heri Za Kwanzaa.”

Our music teacher, Karinsa Moline, spent the entire year teaching kids about music from around the world. They got to use instruments she bought during her travels in India and China. They learned African folk songs and even performed a version of “The Barber of Seville.”

The Champaign music curriculum emphasizes learning about music through singing, dancing and interactive games. It’s an approach that blends social, musical and cognitive learning together, hoping to teach students about rhythm, form and harmony but also inspire a love of music.

“We want students to be singers, we want them to be joyful and we want them to learn more about music,” said Sarah Filkins, who coordinates the music curriculum for the district.

It paid off: My kids know more about music than I ever will. And I saw children who struggled in the classroom absolutely shine on stage.

Not all schools do a holiday sing-along. Some have performances in December, featuring all the kids or just a few grades (to break up the crowds). Others invite parents into the classroom to hear what students are learning.

Trevor Nadrozny, who’s been a principal at two Champaign schools, said teachers try to keep the holiday programs diverse, to reflect traditions from all the students. Principals have some discretion, he said, based on the families at their school.

Now at Kenwood Elementary School, he was principal for 11 years at Westview Elementary, which also houses the English as a Second Language program.

“We tried to hit as many different cultures as we could,” he said, sometimes pulling in performers from the community as well.

Filkins, who teaches at Robeson Elementary School, is planning a holiday concert with first-, second- and third-graders next week. The lineup features songs from varied cultures, including Christmas carols from different countries and Hannukah and Kwanzaa songs.

Neither Nadrozny nor Filkins have ever heard any complaints. In fact, when Westview’s music teacher switched from an all-school program to just fourth and fifth grades one year, “people were up in arms,” Nadrozny said.

“I think it’s just a tradition more than anything.”

It’s what we cling to especially in these times, when darkness comes early and the news is heavy with protests and political strife, mass shootings and terrorist bombs. Fear threatens to trump our generous spirit. We look to the celebrations that bring us hope.

Filkins said she focuses on the music and traditions, and “what we can learn.”

“More than celebrating the holiday, it’s a celebration of different cultures and different traditions. There’s a lot of beautiful music,” she said. “Through doing this, they actually have more awareness that they do celebrate different holidays, and they can learn from each other. We can respect one another.”

Something the world could use right now.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):Education, People

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