Classroom of the Week: Muddy Brook fourth-graders pass the baton

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GREAT BARRINGTON — On Tuesday, the graduating fourth-grade students at Muddy Brook Elementary School passed the baton of leadership in the grades K-4 school, on to their rising fourth-grade counterparts. But instead of using batons, they passed Boomwhackers, a brand of colorful musically tuned plastic tubes used for percussion, as a symbol for the changing of the guard.

For the past eight years, Otha Day, a local drumming circle leader and educator, has visited the school to offer "Drumming to the Beat," an end-of-the-year workshop for the fourth-grade classes. This year was the first time he worked with the school to coordinate this leadership ritual, having the kids look at each other and wish each other luck.

Kerry Manzolini co-teaches the 70 fourth graders with her colleagues Jennifer Annand, John Broderick and Bonnie Groeber. Together, they've been working to teach their classes about the characteristics of peace and kindness and leadership.

Manzolini said, "We've been talking [with the children] about how they're leaders of the school this year. They've been coming to see this performance since they were in kindergarten, and now it's their time to shine and offer this rhythmic handover."

The students participated in a daylong workshop before giving a performance and passing their instruments over to the younger kids.

"It is a wonderful way to send our fourth graders off with positive energy to the middle school the following year. It is also the perfect way for [them] to celebrate all the years of learning and say 'so long' to the school, their friends and teachers," Manzolini said.

"Over the years, [Day's] drumming has had a profound effect on our staff and students, especially myself," she said. "It brings us all together with a celebration of music."

In the Muddy Brook fourth-grade classes, students start their year doing a team project. They study the life and culture of Mexico, then prepare together arts, music and food for a capstone fiesta.

"Over the year, they study so many other cultures, which is important for them to know about," Groeber said.

Broderick said he and his fellow teachers also try to teach students good social and leadership skills. "They need control of themselves, but that work is ongoing," he said. "They're only 9 and 10 [years old] so they're still growing through it," he said.

During the musical ceremony, Otha Day had the fourth-grade students, who performed for the whole school during an assembly, sing and drum African and Native American songs of celebration and unity. "We take care of each other," he told them.

As a backdrop, the gymnasium was decorated with fourth-grade art projects, which included silhouettes of their faces, and a project for which they drew a pair of sneakers along with personal statements about themselves, arranged and colored in like the bands of a rainbow.

After the special program, the students commented on their experiences.

Eriel Dominguez said he was "so excited — I've always wanted to play the drums and now I know how!"

"It's an amazing way for us to express the sadness and excitement we feel for moving on to a different school," said his classmate Willa Dowling.

Leah Gabriel agreed that, "It was a nice ceremony for us to go off to a new school with."

Harley Margraf said she felt enlightened by it. "I felt so much power from everyone connecting," she said.

Various students chimed in when asked for their advice for the rising fourth graders. This ranged from "have fun" to "ask good questions" to "be a good role model."

"There have been lots of wonderful kinds of ways the fourth-graders have learned this year and led," said Principal Mary Berle. "We will miss them."


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