Dr. Elizabeth Whitehead Chappell introduces the UNT String Project, with a Viola Halloween Video!

AYOI teach all things string music education at UNT, but one of my favorite roles here is String Project director. The UNT String Project allows students to get authentic teaching experiences that we could never replicate in a college classroom.

There are only about 40 String Project sites in the United States, and six of them are in Texas. Together, the sites form the National String Project Consortium, which partners with host universities or community organizations. The UNT string project has 22 teachers, a master teacher, Carrie Atkins, and well over 100 students from Denton and the surrounding areas. Each class meets once a week for 50 minutes and is taught by UNT student music education and string performance majors. We have four different levels and two orchestras. The students can start as early as 3rd grade as beginners on violin, viola, cello, and bass. Ms. Atkins and I observe and guide the student teachers during classes and then we meet with the teachers once a week to discuss the successes and challenges of the previous week, as well as plan for the upcoming week.

Our String Project violists are: George Burnett, Joseph Geller, Andreas Gomez, Sam Hernandez, Nick Tharp, Myles Miller, and Gabriella Myers. Each of these teachers plays a role as both a lead teacher and an assistant in various classes and they are all string music education majors. As Gabriella put it: “The best part about SP for me is being able to share my love of music with eager children. I have to challenge myself to remember that I am teaching beginners, and not people at my own level.” George adds: “This week, I am teaching the students to play a song in a round, and we are working on reinforcing skills we already taught them. The best thing about string project for me is the look on the students’ faces when they get things right!”

String Project provides these students with many “real world” experiences. They experience lesson planning, classroom management, parent interactions, and “thinking on their feet.” Just last week we had a tornado warning during our class time, and they had to shelter in place!

We have recently added the Charms system so that our teachers can get familiar with this organizational technology that is widely used in  Texas public schools. We use this system to easily send emails to our parents (grouped by class or in a mass emailing) and to organize our music library. Recently we have also uploaded practice videos to Charms so that our students and parents have a reference to guide their practice time. Take a look at Nick and Sam playing “Chicken on the Fence Post!”

One of the biggest challenges to the success of string project students is the fact that they only meet once a week. I have yet to find another string project that only offers one lesson per week– others either offer one group and one private lesson or two group lessons per week. Working within a pre-existing format, I decided that offering videos for the parents to help guide their students in practice would be a possible solution to help mitigate this issue. (We will let you know later in the year how things turn out!) So I have been researching ways to restructure the program to give the students more contact hours with their teachers. I’m also really excited that in January we will be offering the “Every Child Can” introductory Suzuki training workshop to all our student teachers, taught by my mentor, Laurie Scott. I think this is going to bring some really interesting new perspectives to our students, about what is possible in teaching.

Speaking of  working with videos, we have also been experimenting in one of the music education courses with iMovie trailer software. We made this silly viola recruitment video for Halloween– we hope that you are entertained!

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