Collaboration is valued at Greenbriar School, and music teacher Jeremy Bartunek finds many opportunities to collaborate with his colleagues and students to promote music, creativity and independence. Along with the school’s art teacher, he has developed full and complete artistic experiences for students. Together, they also work with other art and music teachers around the district, as well as with general education teachers to integrate learning across the curriculum, so performing and visual arts are not simply allocated to the music and art classrooms.
“The students play an integral role in the success of our program,” he explains. “I have 5th-grade students running the sound and lights for all our shows, as well as working backstage. My goal is that I can simply sit back and relax during the performances because the kids are running the show.”
Bartunek worked with his general music colleagues in the district to strip down the curriculum to the essentials, which allowed teachers to embellish the curriculum as they needed. For example, one of the markers is that students must successfully perform a melody with three pitches from music notation. “We left the word ‘perform’ rather vague and removed any reference to instruments, solfege, singing, ‘standard notation’ (so graphic notation could be used) or how that would be assessed,” he explains. “Some students used a recorder and standard notation, others sang and used solfege syllables, and others still used music software or created their own physical representation using manipulatives,”
The best part was that each teacher was allowed and encouraged to tailor the teaching and assessment to their kids and specific classes while still maintaining consistency across all three elementary schools in the district.
Bartunek founded the Northbrook 28 Children’s Choir in the Fall of 2019 with about 60 students in 3rd to 5th grade in three different ensembles. “This, of course, turned out to be a terrible time to start a choir because of the COVID pandemic in 2020,” he says. However, the choir continued to meet via Zoom and successfully “performed” virtual concerts. Today, the choir has grown to more than 200 students in 1st to 5th grade spread over four ensembles. The students have performed at community events at Wrigley Field, Northwest Community Hospital, the Northbrook Court mall and more.
Bartunek recognizes that he is just one of many teachers and subjects that students will encounter. “I strive to make the music room a space where students are comfortable expressing themselves musically and where they feel like they can be emotionally open,” he says.
Almost all his students are comfortable singing alone in front of their peers and using their voice as a medium for their personality. “The music room is the best room in the school (except, maybe, the auditorium) and that is because it is the most honest and open place for kids to be,” he says.