Down from the dais, school board member brings music to elementary students

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

Alabamanewscenter

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Janice Stallworth works with a student on the flutophone. Stallworth volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Robinson Elementary School, teaching third-graders to play the flutophone. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. Photos: Special to the Times)

 

Janice Stallworth is a Fairfield Board of Education member who does more than sit at the dais. She’s delivering a hands-on approach to helping a school in her district, and perhaps eventually the system as a whole.

Stallworth volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Robinson Elementary School, teaching third-graders to play the flutophone. She also enlisted a friend to form a boys chorus at Robinson.

“I have a few students who can already play ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb,’” Stallworth said prior to Tuesday’s fifth session in the school’s science lab turned music studio. She works with the 18 to 20 students who returned permission forms from their parents.

The board member bought the instruments herself.

Fairfield High Preparatory School does not have a grade school feeder program to its high school band. There is band instruction for grades six through 12 but not in the elementary schools.

Stallworth hopes to change that, giving her grade school students the same start in music she received as she learned to play the flutophone as a fifth-grader at Robinson. She went on to play the flute, oboe and clarinet.

“It carried me all through life,” said Stallworth, whose day job is teaching microbiology at Lawson State Community College. “Music just makes the child more well-rounded. Hopefully, next year we will have a music program where music will be a part of the curriculum in our elementary schools.”

The Fairfield schools are based on an academy system. Robinson features health, Glen Oaks has engineering and math, and C.J. Donald Elementary provides business and finance.

“But that leaves music out,” said Stallworth, who is aided by her son, James Merkerson. “I am just trying to start something that will put a spark in our children for music.”

Just down the hall, Francina Morales, a recently retired Birmingham City Schools music teacher, and school staffer Martha Reed work with the newly formed boys chorus for grades two through six. It began after Stallworth called Morales to ask about classroom management and the subject of a boys chorus came up.

Morales held auditions to get the 35 vocalists with whom she works.

Francina Morales works with the male chorus. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. photo: Special to the Times)
Francina Morales works with the male chorus. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. photo: Special to the Times)

“Our boys just need us and it’s up to us to step up and do whatever we can,” she said. “This is my small thing that I can do to help these kids learn more about discipline and self-control.”

The music teacher said the boys chorus was good from the beginning. It has improved, she said, as the boys have become more comfortable with singing together and with instruction.

The choral director said music can give a means to shine to children who may not do well academically.

“They can prosper in music a lot of times,” she said. “Some of them can do rhythms and some of them can sing very well. And even if they can’t sing very well in a general music class, they can still participate.”

Discipline is another benefit.

“The same social skills they have to use here with me, that’s the same thing that their teachers tell them in their classroom,” Morales said. “If you pay attention, then you will sing correctly. If you’re not listening to what is being taught, you won’t hear and you’ll be singing another song.”

The addition of music has definitely struck a chord with Robinson students.

“The kids are super excited about coming to choir and flutophone,” third-grade teacher Tracie Williams said. “Especially my flutophone folks; they want to come before the time comes. They really look forward to it.”

Robinson Elementary School, teaching third-graders to play the flutophone (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. Photos: Special to the Times)
Robinson Elementary School, teaching third-graders to play the flutophone (Solomon Crenshaw Jr. Photos: Special to the Times)

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