When Adam Landry, a BGSU senior majoring in music education, agreed to narrate a performance by roughly 180 kindergarteners for an audience including Ohio First Lady Frances Strickland, “I thought it would be a good teaching experience,” he said.
It was certainly a memorable one for the Sylvania resident, who, hobbled by a sprained ankle, found himself hopping on one leg during a folk dance presented by the children for Strickland and other dignitaries during a “Kindergarten Congress” Oct. 25 at Bowling Green’s Kenwood Elementary School.
Crim kindergartener Sarah Munson gives Frances Strickland a scarlet carnation, accompanied by Dr. Joyce Eastlund Gromko (right).
A celebration of music, literacy and partnerships in teacher education, the event was organized by Dr. Joyce Eastlund Gromko, music education. Gromko corresponded with the first lady’s office early this year about her Kindergarten Project and talked to Strickland in Columbus in May, paving the way for her visit.
“I’ve been looking forward to coming to this school for a long, long time,” Strickland said after listening to the kindergarteners from five Bowling Green schools—Conneaut, Crim, Kenwood, Milton and Ridge—and Old Fort perform seven “literacy” songs.
The short folk songs aid the children’s aural perception of high/low, fast/slow and loud/soft sounds, benefiting them both musically and in their phonemic (speech sound) awareness, Gromko says. They learn the songs in a sequence that builds auditory memory skills, beginning with chanting, clapping and then singing. After they can sing the songs, body percussion and instruments are added to reinforce their high/low, fast/slow perception. Finally, the children touch pictorial notations of the songs.
“Tying academics to the arts is great,” said Strickland, an educational psychologist by training who developed a widely used screening test for kindergarten-age children. She agreed that “a way they can learn to read is to read the songs they sing.”
Also known for playing the guitar and singing, she is now advocating for arts education. “Anytime I see a program that values the arts, I know it’s a program that knows what children need to thrive,” added the first lady, who was presented a scarlet carnation—Ohio’s state flower—by Crim kindergartener Sarah Munson, daughter of Dr. Mark Munson, music education.
Frances Strickland meets BGSU student Jami Haswell after the concert.
Learning of their shared interests late last year, Gromko first wrote Strickland in January to tell her about the Kindergarten Project, which Gromko started in Bowling Green in 1992. The project, in which her advanced methods students teach music to kindergarteners, expanded to Otsego schools in 2005 and to Old Fort this year.
Gromko subsequently received a phone message from Strickland’s scheduler and administrative assistant, asking for the music book and accompanying CD that Gromko had mentioned in her letter.
The book and CD were new elements of the project last spring, funded by Continuing and Extended Education and private donors, and sent home with about 400 students. The materials let the children share with their parents the 10 folk songs they had learned at school. The “touch charts” used by the kindergarteners comprise the book, which was sent, with the CD, to Strickland’s office in March and led to the May 1 meeting in Columbus.
The first lady mentioned possible use of the CD at other schools during the Oct. 25 event and, afterward, described it as “one of the pathways” in a broader initiative to encourage more student creativity and innovation in the classroom.
“You’re going to be really good leaders for other children in the state of Ohio,” she told the kindergarteners.