“I always say that I can’t do anything more for kids than to just show them the way. They must first be open to it,” says Monroe Elementary School Music Teacher Jeff Driscoll.
However, Driscoll has done much more than just show students the way. In the 15 years that he has worked at the district, the music program’s offerings have grown as has its visibility. Additions include the before-school jazz band, before- and after-school vocal ensembles, the creation of a separate 5th-grade choir (prior to this, there was a 5-8 choir) and a pep band. Outside of the traditional day, there is also a four-week summer band program and a school musical.
He credits the school for supporting the music program and being open to growing it and making it accessible to all students, as well as the parents and community for helping to build up the program and make it possible for their kids to jump in. “Once the kids realize they’re passionate about music, I can show them all the opportunities, activities and different paths that are available,” he says.
The first step Driscoll takes is to look for areas where students don’t have an outlet. For example, starting the jazz band was an opportunity for students to play a different style of music. The pep band also played different types of music, but it also expanded the visibility of the program to a subset of the community that wouldn’t normally hear them. “A before-school advanced vocal group was started for a few years as a chance to sing other styles of music, which slowly morphed into a soprano/alto group. Then we eventually started a tenor/bass group to make sure those kids had outlets as well,” Driscoll says. “We also had a lot of kids who were dramatically minded and loved doing shows, and once the logistics within the school building made sense — which included building a second gym — we added the musical as an extracurricular opportunity.”
Driscoll co-founded Arc Light Productions, a nonprofit community theater with Rachel Roderick, a classmate from high school. Both share a love of theater and wanted to create more artistic and creative-based outlets for kids during the summers. “We have now have two youth productions with 50 to 60 kids each summer in addition to our mainstage adult/community show, Christmastime madrigal dinner that features two children’s choirs, and a full adult choir,” he says proudly.
For Driscoll, it’s all about providing avenues for students to be creative and successful. “Anytime I get to witness kids doing things they didn’t realize they were capable of — that’s a win for me,” he says.