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Celebrating the 2017 DTE Educators of the Year

DTE Educator of the Year Ward at Ypsilanti High School
Presenting one of the Awards at Ypsilanti High School. Photo by Jesse Meria.

We’re pleased to honor Beacon Day Treatment Center teacher Jill Ross and Ypsilanti Community High School teacher Lynne Settles as the 2017 DTE Energy Foundation Educators of the Year. The award recognizes and celebrates excellence in arts education, lifting up the importance of the arts as a way of teaching 21st-century knowledge and skills, including creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and familiarity with local and global cultures.

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Jill Ross teaches art at Beacon Day Treatment Center, a K-12 educational facility in Southgate that serves students who struggle with emotional impairments that limit their ability to function in a regular K-12 setting. Many of Jill’s students are working to overcome challenges related to homelessness, abuse, and abandonment. Using visual arts, drama, and movement exploration, she provides tactile experiences for her students to work with art materials and explore the different ways that their bodies can move. These experiences give her students — especially those who struggle verbally — an outlet for their feelings, allowing them to cope with and avoid depression and aggression.

Ypsilanti Community High School art teacher Lynne Settles incorporates visual and performing arts into her students’ curriculum in unique ways that inspire them to learn about their heritage and encourage them to make a meaningful and positive difference in their community. Lynne worked with her students to design and paint two community murals for downtown Ypsilanti that feature influential African-Americans and women who played a positive role in Ypsilanti’s history. Lynn also worked with her students to produce a special program that featured spoken word, song, drama, and dance inspired by African-American figures whose lives have affected the course of history in a positive way. Through these art projects, Lynn’s students connected with Ypsilanti community partners to explore and learn about their own community’s history and the positive impact African-Americans had in shaping Ypsilanti.

The DTE Energy Foundation is sponsoring the awards as part of its annual grant support to UMS Youth Education Programs.

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Celebrating the 2016 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year

We’re pleased to honor Ann Arbor Public Schools teacher Beth McNally as the 2016 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year and Ann Arbor Public School Allen Elementary as the 2016 DTE Energy Foundation School of the Year. The awards honors excellence in K-12 arts education.

Beth McNally is honored as the DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year for her passionate commitment to integrating the arts into the core curriculum of Wines Elementary School in Ann Arbor. McNally is especially praised for her exceptional use of arts-integration through her concert performance program, which comprises popular and classic songs, each selected and arranged to reflect the curricular topics of the students’ respective grade levels.

Allen Elementary has become a model among its peers in the integration of arts into the curriculum, in large part because of the collaborative nature of its art and music teachers, Deb Campbell and Kimberly Coulson-Mobley. Campbell and Coulson-Mobley work consistently with the school’s classroom teachers to incorporate the arts with the students’ daily academic curriculum.

Beth McNally and Allen Elemenary were nominated through a public nomination process and will be honored at UMS’s Ovation gala, on Saturday, May 14 at the Crisler Arena Hall of Honors (333 E Stadium Blvd., Ann Arbor, MI 48109).

DTE Energy Foundation sponsors this award as part of a $50,000 grant to UMS Youth Education Programs.

View the full press release [pdf]

Educator Conversations: Brooklyn Rider

Editor’s note: This post is a part of a series of conversations between educators in the K-12 community. Educators will offer suggestions and answer questions about integrating UMS School Day Performances or the arts into classroom curriculum, as well as share advice on organizing a field trip to UMS. To volunteer to be a Teacher Lobby Moderator e-mail See other Educator Conversations here.

This week’s questions:

  • What does “Brooklyn Rider” mean?
  • How does a group like Brooklyn Rider learn to play different genres of music convincingly?
  • What are some tips for listening to string quartet music?

This week’s moderator: Emily Barkakati is an Ann Arbor-based violinist, community educator, and teaching artist.

Barkakati - busking portraitEmily is an Ann Arbor-based violinist, community educator, and teaching artist. She plays with the Michigan Opera Theatre and the Ann Arbor Symphony, organizes events for the Medical Arts Program, runs workshops, and teaches kids how to coordinate their finger hands with their bow arms. She loves crafting, cooking, and learning, and spends a lot of time with her husband and their emotionally dysfunctional cat.

Q: What does “Brooklyn Rider” mean?
Brooklyn Rider’s name is a combination of inspiration from Der Blau Reiter (The Blue Rider) and the borough of Brooklyn in New York City.  Der Blau Reiter was a pre WWI Munich-based artistic collective with members such as artist Vassily Kandinsky and composer Arnold Schoenberg.  Brooklyn is the place the quartet considers home.  The name “Brooklyn Rider” is meant to represent the collaborative spirit of eclectic art-making, both similar to what was found in Der Blau Reiter and in the rich cultural array found in Brooklyn, New York.

Whether it’s the title of a book, work of art, piece of music, or even historical event, there is often a lot that can be derived from something’s name.   One of the many ways that students can explore this idea is through the analysis of their own names.  For instance:

  • What is the etymology of your first name?  What about your last name?
  • Were you named after anyone?
  • Is there a cultural significance to your name?  For instance, my last name “Barkakati” comes from my Assamese heritage, and I’ve been told by older relatives that based on traditional Indian naming conventions, our family would have historically been writers.
  • Is there a nickname you prefer to go by?  What do you think makes it a better representation of your personality?
  • What if you could change your name?  What would you pick and why?

Students can then use these questions to explore and gain ownership over their personal identities.  This kind of exercise could also be expanded into an artistic activity, such as creating a work of art to represent one’s name.

Q: How does a group like Brooklyn Rider learn to play different genres of music convincingly?
Although I can’t speak for Brooklyn Rider, in my own experience I am a predominantly classically trained musician who only started dabbling with improvisation and cross-genre work only in the past few years.  The first step I took in my preparation was to simply listen to a lot of music.  This is a similar process to learning to write in different styles.  Reading a wide variety of genres and authors expands your vocabulary and stylistic knowledge.  In the same way, listening to a wide variety of music expands your aural vocabulary.  That way when you start playing, you might not know the technical adjustments to achieve the correct sound, but you at least have a mental sound to strive toward.

For me, the most difficult part of jumping into new genres of music was getting over the fear of making mistakes.  When I began learning to improvise, a friend of mine gave me the following tips to help me get comfortable:

  1. Pick a song that you know well.
  2.  Play along with a recording of the song by ear.
  3. Play along with the recording again, but this time start adding some embellishments.
  4. Write down some new melodies that would fit into the song.  Try playing them on top of the recording.
  5. Start making up some new melodies on the spot when playing with the recording.
  6. Remember that there is no such thing as a wrong note!  If you play a note that sounds wrong, just turn it into a grace note or an embellishment.

It was important for me to build from my preexisting knowledge in order to gain confidence in my abilities.  It also helped tremendously that I had friends who created a safe environment for me to experiment and to receive constructive feedback.  The same process of building knowledge in stages, also known as scaffolding, is useful for learning any new genre.

Q: What are some tips for listening to string quartet music?
The key to listening to unfamiliar string quartet music, or any type of complex music, is active listening (as opposed to passive listening).  One of the joys of complex music is that there are so many layers – you can listen to a piece many times in many different ways, and always find new exciting elements.  At the same time, these many layers are exactly what can also make complex music seem overwhelming.  Although different people have different approaches, the key for me is to remain open-minded and allow myself to react in the moment to what is happening.  Below are some of the things I think about when listening to unfamiliar music for the first time.

  • What are some adjectives that come to mind on my first hearing of the piece?
  • Are there any particular melodies that stick out to me?  Did I hear them more than once?
  • Did the piece remind me of anything that I’ve heard before?  Did it invoke any memories or mental images?
  • What did I like the most about the piece?
  • Is there anything about the piece that I found confusing?  What about it was confusing?  What are some ways that I can try approaching that section differently to better understand it?

While some believe that it is necessary to research new music in advance in order to understand it, I do not think that this is always the case.  I usually prefer to explore my impressions first and then research after.  This way my reactions to the piece aren’t influenced by pre-existing interpretations.  However, keep in mind that this is just one of many ways to explore new music.

What do you think? Share your responses or questions in the comments section below.

New! Educator Conversations

Photo: Emerson School educator Jennifer Tanau and UMS Advisory Committee member Linda Spector at a UMS reception for teachers. Photo by Mark Gjukich Photography.

This season, look for Educator Conversations on UMS Lobby.

Educators will offer suggestions and answer questions about integrating UMS School Day Performances or the arts into classroom curriculum, as well as share advice on organizing a field trip to UMS. To volunteer to be a Teacher Lobby Moderator e-mail

Educator Conversations will take place around UMS School Day Performances. As soon as the conversations are live, we’ll include a link on this page.

Share you questions or comments below.

VIDEO: Connecting Artists and Kids Through UMS Youth Performances

During a two week period (that began on Friday) UMS hosts five “youth performances” — performances by mainstage artists held during the school day and attended by kids ranging from ages 5-18 from throughout southeastern Michigan.  In December, the Carolina Chocolate Drops gave a youth performance to a full house of kids the same day as their sold-out public performance, teaching songs and sounds, as well as performing music.  The atmosphere was electric.  At the public performance, the CCD talked about how committed they are to providing educational experiences for youngsters and how much they enjoyed performing for the kids earlier in the day.  In this video, some students from a local elementary school in Ann Arbor talk about what they enjoyed most about the performance.

Although they only last an hour, these youth performances take literally dozens of people and hundreds of person-hours to pull off.  For each performance, UMS creates a “teacher resource guide” that provides background information for teachers, as well as activities they can conduct with students in the classroom.  Dozens of Advisory Committee volunteers serve as ushers and provide logistical support for getting all of the students in and out of the venue in a timely fashion.  And, of course, backstage the production staff is working with the artists to ensure a top-notch performance.  UMS Youth Education Manager Omari Rush is at the center of it all, creating the teacher resource guides, communicating with teachers, ushers, production staff, and following up with those in attendance to ensure an optimal experience.

Recent performances include Brazilian dance, a Native American songwriter, a salsa band, and high school students performing classical music:

Grupo Corpo — Friday, January 21

Joanne Shenandoah — Monday, January 24

Baby Loves Salsa — two performances on Monday, January 31

Sphinx Competition — Friday, February 4

UMS Youth Performances are just one component of a well-rounded youth education program that also includes teacher “cultural literacy” workshops; culture-focused book clubs;  day-long intensive “immersions” that focus on a specific culture, community, or art form; and training with education experts provided as part of UMS’s relationship with the Kennedy Center Partners in Education program, which provides educators with arts-infused strategies to enhance student learning across various areas of the curriculum.  Click here for complete details on all youth education programs.

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