A portrait of a typical Thursday in Mattapan:
Thursday is my favorite day. At about 9:30 am, I drive to the Chittick along Cummins Highway, about 15 minutes from Roslindale Village. When I walk into the school, all is quiet, all classrooms are hard at work on Math or Reading, or are in Theatre Arts or Computers. I set up to begin teaching our newest crop of young musicians. Carpet squares and 1/4 sized violins donated by Johnson String Instrument are placed in the hall, right outside the First Grade classroom doors. I take out my violin and tune it, and the first group of four kids assemble themselves. As requested, the first grade teachers send out students who may have the most trouble with behavior, or fine motor skills, or following directions. And we begin. We sing the song “Inchworm” while kids navigate their way around tricky zippers, buckles, and Velcro. They know that we always take out the bow first, and tighten it, and add rosin. All is quiet and calm. I let the students know that if they can be respectful of one another’s “lesson time” then they will earn one minute of “free choice playing” on the violin. The kids work on “spider crawls” (a bow exercise) while I call them up one at a time to play the “E string Lullaby.” I send them back to their classrooms with glowing faces full of pride, and good reports for their classroom teachers, often the best report of the week. Each visit back to the classroom to get the next group I am greeted with hugs and longing looks from all of the rest of the 36 children who desperately want me to teach them the violin too…
Now the time is 2:20. I have unloaded the box of fruit donated by Boston Organics from the car, and prepare snack for the fifth graders. I cut bunches of organic grapes and open the box of kiwi berries, knowing these two favorites will go fast. Our fifth graders shuffle in and find a place to set their things in the un-heated gym. Shortly thereafter, Marji, Jen and Ashleigh arrive and we are ready to begin. First things first, each student must finish their homework. One student needs extra help with reading, so she reads aloud to me for 5 minutes. Jen helps some students finish their math. Then, each instrument group settles into their space; Jen works with the cellists, Ashleigh with the violists and I with the violinists. Marji works with any students who need extra help, or one on one attention in the hallway. Two of our students pull me aside, they made a discovery earlier that day, and every Thursday it seems, they hear the song “Inchworm” coming from some other classroom in the morning…I smile, loving the simplicity of this connection. After an hour, the students find their chamber music partners and their coach, and we all learn how to connect – melody and harmony, eyes and ears, teachers and students, friends and classmates.