Two mornings a week, Dr. Joyce Eastlund Gromko travels from BGSU to Weston Elementary School to work with kindergarteners, whom she’s been helping prepare for their music program on today (May 14).
On May 1, however, the BGSU professor of music education went to Columbus to share her methods with another interested listener—Frances Strickland, first lady of Ohio.
After hearing about Gromko’s Kindergarten Project, Gov. Ted Strickland’s wife accepted an invitation to visit the participating schools next fall. The first lady was also interested in broader dissemination of a music book like the one that was given to all the kindergarteners in the project this spring, Gromko said. She plans to contact a professional colleague who has recorded a CD that she hopes could be used to create another booklet of children’s folk songs.
An educational psychologist by training, Frances Strickland developed a widely used screening test for kindergarten-age children. Also known for playing the guitar and singing, she is now, as first lady, advocating for music education as well.
“She brings all of that to the conversation,” said Gromko, quoting Strickland as accepting the invitation by saying “I’m going to every single school.”
Having learned of their shared interests late last year, Gromko wrote Strickland in mid-January to tell her about the Kindergarten Project, which Gromko started at Bowling Green in 1992. Each semester, her advanced methods students teach music to kindergarteners in several Bowling Green schools and at Weston and Haskins schools, both in the Otsego district.
“We know from our research that our Kindergarten Project benefits the children musically and in their performance of phonemic (speech sound) awareness,” she added, inviting the first lady to visit any of the classrooms.
A few weeks later, Gromko received a phone message from Michelle Hardin, Strickland’s scheduler and administrative assistant. Saying she and Strickland are working on a music project for children, Hardin asked about getting the music book and accompanying CD that Gromko had also mentioned in her letter.
The book and CD were new elements of the project this spring, funded by Continuing & Extended Education and private donors, and sent home with about 400 students at the project’s six school sites.
The materials let the children share with their parents the 10 folk songs they had already learned at school, part of an effort “to build children’s aural perception of high/low, fast/slow, and loud/soft sounds,” Gromko explained in a follow-up letter to Hardin.
“We follow a sequence that builds auditory memory skills: chanting the words, clapping ‘the way the words go,’ and singing,” she wrote. “After children can sing the folk song, we add a body percussion and instruments that reinforce their perception of high/low and fast/slow.”
Finally, the kindergarteners touch pictorial notations of the songs, and those “touch charts” comprise the book, which includes instructions for parents. Tracy Bender, a senior graphic design major who works in the College of Musical Arts’ public events office, did illustrations and layout for the book, while Tina Bunce, the college’s publicity/publications manager, served as an editor.
Mark Bunce, director of recording services, recorded the CD in two sessions at the college. Graduate assistant and guitarist Wesley Ridenour accompanied the singer, Dr. Ann Corrigan, voice.
The finished book and CD were sent to Frances Strickland’s office in late March, after which the May 1 meeting was scheduled. Corrigan traveled to Columbus with Gromko, as did Larry Weiss, associate vice president for University relations and governmental affairs, to discuss the book and the project in general.
The BGSU representatives also delivered a letter from Bowling Green Mayor John Quinn endorsing the project and inviting the first lady to the city, along with transcriptions of the songs in the book and samples of writing and pictures by kindergarteners at Bowling Green’s Kenwood Elementary School. Those were presented to Gromko after the Kenwood music concert with the titles of the children’s favorite songs from the book.
At Weston, kindergarten teacher Kirstina Roberts said she can see the benefit the project has beyond music. The children follow a beat and track movement, going left to right, with the music. Reading also involves tracking, moving left to right, and following a pattern, Roberts pointed out, saying “I know it (the music instruction) helps them with their reading skills.”
“We’re trying to get at why these skills are related,” added Gromko, an editorial board member of the Journal of Research in Music Education. If they are related, there must be a cognitive mechanism that’s shared, she said, noting her belief that children use the same mechanism to remember their telephone number as when they’re learning a set of words or a tune.
Also working with the project in the schools this semester are BGSU students Jennifer Bell, a second-year graduate student from Chicago; first-year graduate students Jenni Lucas from Antwerp and Courtney Wright from Lexington, Ky.; seniors Kelly Diefenbach from Saline, Mich.; Melissa Flecher from North Royalton; Elena Funk from Canton; Emily Kuehn from Lancaster, and Matthew “Bo” Sodders from Lima, and the only student not in music education, Jody Lang, a second-year graduate student in music performance studies from Nova.