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Learn@Home: Performing Arts

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Columbia Heights Public Schools (CHPS) students and teachers began distance learning Monday, March 30, 2020. Teachers and staff have been working hard to ensure students receive high-quality and engaging instruction during this time, but with a new learning process in place we’re all having to figure out the best way of doing things. Teachers have adapted their classes to be suitable for an online learning environment, each taking their own unique approaches.

Our new Learn@Home series will cover a number of subjects, highlighting how teachers have modified their days to promote optimal learning.

CHPS teachers are connecting with their students via Zoom, GoogleClassroom and a subscription music lesson platform called SmartMusic. SmartMusic makes it easier for students to engage in making music at home providing instant feedback to students. All students in band in grades 5-12 and choir students grades 6-8 utilize this program during their lessons.

Teachers share objectives, lessons and check in with students. Students also send their music teachers recordings of their playing. “We listen to their performances and give them authentic feedback and suggestions for growth and development.” said Columbia Academy Band/Music Teacher Todd Boyd.

Boyd mentioned the process it’s been to find the best way to teach students online. “If directions are too long or complicated, students can get lost easily. Providing self-made "how to" videos always strengthens the lesson,” he said. Just like in the classroom, we have students who learn in different ways (watching, hearing, doing). Providing multiple ways of sharing information is crucial to student success.”

According to Elementary Band Teacher Ben Hanson, even though struggle is a normal part of these changing times, students are trying hard to keep up with the fast-paced changes all around them. “Many are struggling, but like we learn in band, struggle is the first requirement for growth,” he said. “As long as we keep struggling, we'll keep growing until we're strong enough to make things easy again. Then it's our job to find a new struggle to continue our journey as musicians and people.”

Amidst the natural struggles, students are proving to be flexible during distance learning. They are learning how to navigate learning from home while developing new skills such as time management and communication. 

Columbia Academy Theater Teacher Tara Lorence started her distance learning period with a unit about empathy. Her students took a few days to better understand the concept, then brainstormed situations people might be in right now that they could empathize with such as those struggling with mental health with no access to treatment, those with lost job struggling to pay for necessities, those with special needs unable to understand the changes around them and more. 

“The responses were so thoughtful/insightful,” said Lorence. “It is amazing how much students pick up and understand the world around them even through a screen or from a distance.” 

Columbia Heights High School Band Teacher Caitlin Storm feels everyone is adjusting as well (or better) than she expected. “This is not necessarily a fun way to teach or learn, but we are all giving each other a lot of grace and patience,” she said.

“My favorite moment has been seeing the students really rise to the challenge of continuing to learn, even in this totally new learning environment. I'm always proud of our Heights kids, but I am especially proud of them now.”

Remember Hylanders, we’re all in this together! #HeightsPride. 

To view the entire Learn@Home series, check out the Distance Learning webpage at