Working at a Title I school can be challenging, but Heather Taylor isn’t deterred. “My students are amazing! They live in a low-income suburb of Rochester and receive free breakfast, lunch and many other school and family services,” she says. “While some live in a typical family unit, others live with their grandparents, in a foster home or have even been homeless. But even with these circumstances they are THRIVING in music!”
Taylor’s students take the bus one hour before school starts to make it to early morning band. If they miss the bus, they will walk to school in the freezing upstate New York winter weather. “They give up lunch and recess time to help me organize music or sort handouts,” she says. “They make me want to be a better teacher and provide them with the proper materials to succeed!”
Her can-do attitude obviously works because her music program at Lakeshore Elementary School is the largest elementary program in the district. She credits her high enrollment numbers on having high expectations and building relationships with her students. “I hold my students accountable for practicing at home and making music together in lessons and rehearsals,” she says.
Relationship-building comes naturally for Taylor. “I am so fortunate to be able to work with students not only in a large ensemble setting but in small group weekly lessons as well,” she explains. “These small group lessons allow me to get to know my students on a personal level, which basically eliminates any misbehaviors in my classroom. I want my students to know that I am a trusted adult and that my classroom is a safe space for them. They can come down to my classroom anytime — if they need a break, if they want to have lunch, etc. Sometimes that is all it takes for a student to want to come to school, to want to learn, to want to participate in music.”
Taylor did not want finances to be a barrier for students to participate in music. So she looked for ways to get instruments, accessories and classroom materials for her band program. “This continued to grow as I found alternative ways of getting these supplies (other than school/district budgets), such as instrument drives, #clearthelist movement, grants, Donors Choose, etc.,” she says. “All the materials I have received are immediately put into the hands of my students so that we can continue making music together!”