DORSET>>For Matthew Steckler, the change in scenery wasn't the only difference to adapt to moving to Vermont from New York. The Dorset School music teacher who started in fall 2014 is transforming the music department with personalized activities and strengthening student's musical skills on various levels.
Steckler is from Upstate New York and teaches kindergarten through eighth grade. He's incorporated field trips, sent a flute player to the Green Mountain Music Festival District five, and stresses music literacy in all grades, some things that weren't done before.
"I walked into a room with more resources than my previous couple classrooms, so that's been positive. It was a good starting point," he said. "So, I think it's slow but steady growth in sort of a community partnership, as far as the music department is concerned."
Steckler acknowledges that decreased funding for music programs is occurring throughout the nation but the Dorset School administration is supportive. He's developing a music program website and reaching out to the community for fundraising events.
In addition to teaching basic music curriculum, Steckler practices human development in which students respect their peers when performing musical pieces, vocally or instrumentally.
The ensemble program, separate from general music, includes a junior band with fourth and fifth graders, a senior band with six through eighth graders, a jazz band and a chorus group. All general music students, however, sing in the chorus anyway. The selected bands are formed by audition and occur during free block hours.
The band's winter concert, which traditionally took place in the gymnasium, was held at the Dorset Playhouse. Steckler said students were able to have a one-on-one internship experience by learning about stage production, sound board and light operation. This spring, students will perform at the Southern Vermont Arts Center and will be able to sit in the crowd while other grades play.
Another addition to the general music program is the utilization of online music generation programs, or Music First.
"Music First has been good for this sort of flipped learning trend that's been happening, where you can sort of follow your passion, if they express a certain interest in a subtopic, I can throw a related assignment their way through a flipped learning environment and they can read up on it or have some background knowledge going into designing their own project," he said.
Students have also learned about notation though a program called Noteflight.
"This really expedites the process because in a contemporary world, even writing in cursive has become increasingly irrelevant," he said. "Noteflight is pretty nice because you can type in and it will put the notes on the page and you can easily edit them"
Additional programs like Sound Trap and Soundation are used for children to demonstrate their learning further.
Steckler said he delves into kid's ideas who are interested in choreographing, writing their own songs or dancing and incorporate it with their project.
The teacher grew up in the New York State School Music Association, which advances music education across the state. Every year 100,000 students participate in its spring festival. Vermont lacks this stature, but does have an All State Music Festival for high school students.
"I understand the differences between Vermont and this particular situation aspect of Vermont life and what I came out of and respecting that it'll be what it is," he said. "I like the personalization piece and I don't think there was really room for that where I came from."
In conjunction with The Maple Street School, Dorset School, Manchester Elementary Middle School and the community, Steckler helped put on the first Green Hills Music Band Camp last year that will continue again this summer. Cost of the camp is $200 and runs for one week in August for fourth through eighth graders.
"It's a way to get kids low pressure introduced to the different band instrument," he said.
This year's musical performances will be split into two days with kindergarteners through fifth graders on May 25 and sixth through eighth graders on the 26 at the Southern Vermont Arts Center.
Steckler has taught at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute, New York University, Bergen Community College, metro New York City and Boston Public and Parochial schools and at private lessons. He's recently completed a Ph. D. in composition at New York University and previously studied at the New England Conservatory.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.