Band Director Kacee Sanders is a firm believer in building independent musicians where her only role in the classroom is to act as a facilitator. The goal is for her students at DuPont Hadley Middle School to be thinkers and problem solvers and to be able to operate without her. “I’m not the one making the music; the musicians are. I challenge the traditional band room setting where the band director barks orders from the podium, and the musicians militaristically sit in the chairs and do what’s asked.”
Instead, Sanders wants everyone in the room to be involved in the music-making. She tells her students that every voice and every contribution is needed to create a completely unique and beautiful performance. “I encourage my classrooms to have conversations,” she says.
This independence also results in a supportive, positive and inclusive environment within the band. As a Title I school, most DuPont Hadley students will need music scholarships to go to college. “They work to motivate each other,” Sanders says. “They help each other and have been incredibly encouraging of each other’s successes.”
Sanders employs social and emotional learning practices in the classroom and focuses on creating an engaging learning environment. Every Monday, students complete a “rehearsal reflections” graphic organizer with sections to set their rehearsal intentions for the week, indicate any upcoming performances and track individual, section and ensemble goals.
She also implements several teaching strategies that actively involve students learning with and from their peers. “I believe that all students have something to contribute to the learning environment and should have the opportunity to feel valued and succeed, and I have worked to create a positive classroom culture where this is possible,” she says.
Sanders is proud of her role as Executive Director of the Southeastern Women in Music Symposium and considers it her biggest accomplishment and undertaking. The symposium originated as a Girl Scout Gold Award project by a former student, Mya Foley, who approached Sanders in 2021 to be her sponsor and to brainstorm project ideas. As a percussionist, Mya experienced the male-dominated landscape of the music community and recognized the need for more female representation in both the clinicians she worked with and the composers whose music she performed. The concept of an all-female honor festival began to take shape. The one-time Gold Award project has now evolved into a nonprofit organization and an annual symposium. “Our second symposium took place in December 2023, and we hosted 75 high school and undergraduate participants, who benefited from rehearsals, discussions and mentorship,” Sanders says. “The symposium has never been just an event to Mya and me. It is a testament to our commitment to increase female representation, provide a space for young women to thrive and foster mutual support among women in music.”