CLASSROOM OF THE WEEK | A rhythm of respect in Lanesborough Elementary's music program

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LANESBOROUGH — There are three guidelines for students posted on the wall by the entrance to Jacqueline Vinette's music room at Lanesborough Elementary School: "Enter quietly and make a good seating choice. Participate with your best effort at all times. Listen and follow all directions."

The teacher's tone of respect seems to resonate with her students. During a recent visit to this "Classroom of the Week," the young musicians were exemplary in their focus and readiness to rehearse for a Dec. 21 winter concert, despite Tuesday's half-day class schedule.

The morning's special combined concert band and orchestra rehearsal allowed the two groups to hear each other's progress, something Vinette said she enjoys about teaching in a kindergarten-through-grade six setting.

"I always thought I'd be a high school band director," she said, "but that changed from being here. I like seeing the students' progress. You see big changes, from the first time they take their instrument out of the case and learn how to put it together to when they start to master a technique with their instrument."

In addition to teaching instrumental groups, as well as individual and small-group lessons at the school, Vinette teaches general music classes to all students once a week for 40 minutes. As part of her training, she plays multiple instruments with her students, from her primary instrument, the clarinet, to stringed instruments, like violin and cello. She also conducts the school chorus, and runs an after-school drama club, which will take on the musical "Annie" this spring.

The band, chorus and theater groups all average in having 30 to 40 students at a time in grades four through six.

The teacher aims to be as inclusive as possible, aware of the differences in her students' personalities, interests and skill levels.

"I rewrite parts a lot to make [the music] more accessible, because I want them to enjoy it, too, and not feel intimidated," Vinette said.

Parent Kimberly Simpson said she has noticed how her own children have responded positively to the music classes at the school.

In her nomination, Simpson describes Vinette as "an exceptional teacher who brings the best out in her students." The mother said Vinette is often able to help students who are having difficulties find focus and purpose in the classroom, and has helped Simpson's children "come out of their shells."

"These students love her classes and musical programs. She offers praise, support and has the ability to help her students grow. I always say that Jackie is magical," Simpson said.

In recent years, Vinette has worked with the music and choral teachers at Mount Greylock Regional High School, to where most Lanesborough Elementary students transfer, to ensure that Lanesborough students were keeping up with their music practice. The collaborative effort has led to things like Tri-District concerts.

This past spring, Vinette (known then by her maiden name, Widun) earned a grant through the Lanesborough Initiative For Excellence Fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation to support music program opportunities for the students at her school.

Some of Vinette's orchestra students said they like the "freedom" they have in the class, and how it helps students to become leaders.

Fifth-grade student Charlotte Holubar, a second-year violin player, forgot to bring in her instrument for Tuesday's abbreviated rehearsal. Instead of making her sit out, Vinette had Holubar play "air violin," encouraging her to maintain good posture and practice fingering the notes.

"We have tons of fun," Holubar said.

"We're like a small family," said sixth-grader Lauren Scapin, a third-year violinist.

Scapin has previously helped out a substitute teacher on a day that Vinette was out sick. The student helped to lead her section and conduct run-throughs of music just days before a concert.

"The kids stepped up," Vinette said. "When I came back, I didn't feel like a rehearsal was missed. It was perfect."

The music teacher said she regularly looks for opportunities for students to take ownership in their musical practice and to help each other.

"When I was your age, I learned that everybody in band has an important part. There's no small role," she said.

Vinette takes that same approach in her choral classes and with her theater group.

Said Simpson: "Jackie is an expert teacher who creates an atmosphere in her classroom in which all students are respected. Jackie's classroom is one of the many that makes Lanesborough Elementary School special!"


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