Jonny Schremmer | April 5 | Cougar Chronicle

"If you cannot teach me to fly, teach me to sing." -Sir James Barrie (Peter Pan)

Since singing is one of the most potentially dangerous activities in the time of COVID, music teachers around the world had to get very creative this year. Lucky for us, Mr. Troy, Ms. Ashley and Mr. Austin are about as creative as they come!

Middle and Upper School music teacher and rock band leader Austin Farnam explains, “Teaching this year has taught me a great deal in the art of adaptability. My "perfect" lesson plan can change in an instant. I have learned to keep a plan A, B & C at the ready for most days. Having this kind of prep work has really focused my attention on flexibility and efficiency, and that is what has kept me up and running through the last year. Working simultaneously with virtual students and students on campus has pushed me in new directions as a teacher. I feel like this year has allowed me to produce projects and teach like I never have before which has made for an incredibly productive year. While there have been many challenges along the way I am very proud of what we were able to accomplish this year.”

K-6 music teacher and multi-instrumentalist Ashley Wright agrees. “With so many precautions that must be taken, it has been a challenge to teach some of my curriculum. We haven’t been able to sing or play any shared instruments. I think the main thing I have taken away from this whole experience is that regardless of how difficult the road may seem, with teamwork and support, almost anything is possible. I can’t imagine going through such a trying time anywhere besides TNS. The entire TNS community has really banded together to make this year successful. The administrative leaders, teachers, faculty/staff, parents and students have all gone to such great lengths to make the best of our COVID situation, and I am truly proud of us all.”

Early Childhood’s troubadour Troy Schremmer has learned to change his expectations of himself as a teacher. He explains, “Sometimes good enough is good enough. There have been many times during the year when I wanted things to go better, sing songs longer, play games that we haven't played all year.  Each day is still full of smiles and laughter and lots of fun songs and games.  Despite the challenges, we can always find songs to sing and games to play.” While Mr. Troy is always masked, his young students are not. This allows for a bit more normalcy and flexibility for our littlest ones. He says, “In music and movement we're exploring how we move and how we travel. That is to say, how we GO!  Wheels are a big part of "going” in lots of different ways for us in ECE, and there are lots of songs we sing about those wheels and the way they go round and round. We've also been taking rides up and down the hallways in a little red wagon. If you're a student in Early Childhood at The New School, you have definitely been taking rides and giving your friends rides in a very fast Radio Flyer Wagon. You also definitely know more than one verse of ‘Bumpin' Up and Down in a Lil' Red Wagon.’”

Across all divisions at the school, students continue to teach us grown-ups adaptability. Ashley writes, “I think the biggest surprise has been how well the students have handled all the challenges I mentioned earlier. Many of the alternative methods we use in my classroom were the ideas of students. We have worked together to make their ideas efficient and I’m very thankful for their creativity.” Austin has a similar experience in the Arts Annex. “The biggest surprise of the year is how adaptable and accepting we have all been towards these new challenges. Students have handled every twist and turn with grace and positivity. I think we are all extremely grateful just to remain on campus and feel a little bit of normalcy in our day-to-day lives.” And as expected, Troy down in the ECE wing agrees. “My biggest surprise was how the children took all the changes in stride.  I thought our littlest ones would be put off by the masks, but it doesn't seem to bother them and they always know who we are.  It’s as if they’re saying, ‘The teachers' masks are just another strange piece of clothing they have to wear.  Oh well, on with my day!’” 

More than anything, so many of us in the performing arts miss live performances. Austin writes, “As a music teacher and musician, I have truly missed performing for an audience. There is nothing more exciting than performing for an energetic crowd and I can't wait to be back on the stage with my students sharing our love for music!” Ashley echoes this sentiment: “I eagerly await the day I can see my students standing side by side and hear their beautiful voices singing together again.” 

Happily, we have found a way for the show to go on this May, when our Pre-K students will perform a version of The New School’s original musical “Farnahan’s Circus” in the Outdoor Classroom for four performances. Troy says, “We are so excited to reimagine this show as a ‘backyard production’ that will keep classrooms separate and safe while still giving kids the chance to perform for their moms and dads. We’re just getting started learning the songs and circus tricks for the wildcats, strong kids, clowns and acrobats. In ECE everyday is a Fine Day for a Circus, and there’s nowhere else that I would rather be!”

Thanks to creative teachers, adaptable students, supportive administration, generous families and beautiful facilities, students are singing (and flying!) in new and different ways this spring. Join us during Arts Week (and beyond) to see how!

Jonny Schremmer

The New School Arts Director

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