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Music students at Swift Elementary.

As a part of Music in Our Schools Month, we are featuring a number of music educators and their work in music advocacy. All of them exemplify the values of Citizen Musicianship through their dedicated teaching and as enthusiastic champions for the arts.

Samantha Gamble is a music teacher at Swift Elementary School in Chicago. Gamble works to integrate the arts into core subject areas, and provides meaningful instruction to her students, many of whom are English Language Learners, prompting her to include world music in her teaching. She also strives to give her students ownership of their experiences with music, with a student-produced, upper-grade musical. To learn more about her work at Swift, please visit www.swift.cps.k12.il.us.

How has music shaped your life? What inspired you to seek a career in music education?

Music has been a part of my life since I was a kid. I formally began studying music in fifth grade, where I played the flute in band. I continued to be involved in band in high school, and took private lessons. I initially majored in math in college, but I realized that I was just more interested in music, and making it my career.

Can you give a basic overview of your program? How has it changed since you started?

Swift Elementary is a fine- and performing-arts magnet school. In 2007, our administration changed, but they are very supportive of the arts. We have two full-time music teachers, including myself and Angela Maniaci.

As part of the Fine and Performing Arts Magnet Cluster, which is a program that integrates the arts into core subject areas, we’ve spent a lot of time learning how to effectively integrate the arts into other classrooms. As a result, we have two school-wide thematic units per year.

Swift is almost 50 percent English Language Learners (ELL), with over 60 languages represented, which leads Angela and myself to focus on world music in our teaching. We offer after-school music group opportunities, including an African drumming ensemble and choir, and we put on a kindergarten musical and an upper-grade musical each spring. The upper grade musical is in its sixth year, and is completely student produced, from the acting and singing on the stage, to the stage and tech crews. I am biased, but it is quite a production!

We’ve also been able to work with the CSO for the past two years, and that has been enriching for both the students and teachers alike.

What has been your favorite memory in teaching?

My favorite memory in teaching was the entire process of the CSO Rivers project last year. The CSO funded two trips to the Chicago River with our sixth graders, and not only was it a learning experience, but a bonding experience as well. In addition, Yo-Yo Ma came to our school to work with the students that were involved in the project, and their teachers were able to sit down and have a meaningful conversation about arts in education. The students throughout the building knew that the visit was by someone really special, which was felt by the energy in the air.

How do you advocate for the arts, and music in particular?

I feel like I have been advocating for the arts every day of my 20-year career! Even though research suggests that musical learning utilizes higher ordered thinking and is an integral part of educating the whole child, there are still those who don’t see the importance, which creates a lack of funding. So I try to advocate by giving my students the best musical experiences as possible.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Working with the students, of course! But being present when the students have an aesthetic experience, and when they know that they have just created something beautiful – that is the best!

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