POMA Interview: Lawrie McKeith

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Principal Lawrie McKeith believes that the recognition of this small community’s school is a big win for the students, parents and community supporters. “I think the award is a recognition of all the things we do around music and the arts at our school, and parents see it as such! That’s great because it gets more students and parents interested in participating!” says Principal McKeith. She also knows that this award reaches far beyond her own passion and commitment to the music program at her school; it’s about the school staff, parents, volunteers and students who pull together to make the program ‘amazing’. “I am a huge supporter of music and arts education in public schools. This award confirms that commitment. Not because it singles me and my school out, but because it confirms the need to have people who understand the amazing influence music has on students’ learning and social and emotional development, always ready to advance the bar for learning.” says Principal McKeith.

Challenging and developing alternative options for successful learning is important to ensure every child is learning at their greatest potential. Principal McKeith believes that studying music is the equivalent to learning another language and because of this, it enriches literacy as well. This transfers to other areas of learning such as patterns in math or algebra to enhances students’ overall skill set. “I was fortunate to attend schools with really wonderful music programs. I was able to sing in choirs, learn to play instruments, and participate in a number of musical productions. I learned perseverance, grit, time management, social skills and empathy, cooperation, humility, and a thousand other life lessons through those opportunities. I want all our students to be able to have those opportunities to learn those life skills as well.” says Principal McKeith.

Music is alive and well at Robert W Zahara, with a full production of The Lion King in full rehearsal mode. Principal McKeith spoke to the commitment by these and other students to making sure music is a part of their lives – which is deeply supported by parents. The school hosts two music programs beginning at 8am, whereby parents drive their children to school since buses do not run earlier enough. An ‘Early Bird’ girls’ choir for Grades 2 – 6 and boys only drumming ensemble means music starts early and the student commitment is there. This school also believes in students receiving a service component to their learning, whereby all students take a road trip at least once a year to senior centres to share music with others. We model for our students that those pursuits are ones that add value and richness to our lives. If you learn to play an instrument or sing in a choir when you’re young, you are more likely to continue when you are older. It becomes a community activity for you and the friendships and community are valuable”.

When asked how the school will use their award money of $1,500.00 Principal McKeith said it will likely go to expanding their percussion and rhythm instruments, “They get lots of use in our school!”. For others looking to expand or strengthen their school music programs, Principal McKeith has this advice to offer, “Play to your strengths. Music learning comes in lots of different forms. Explore what your core curriculum offers in terms of connections to music. Use online resources. Get parents and other members of the community to share their talents. Check into who in your student body takes music lessons and enlist them. Start with extra curricular groups if you don’t have room for music in the timetable to begin with. We show we value things by putting our time into them – get out with the kids and have fun with music”. The students at Robert W. Zarah look forward to making music on Music Monday including the Music Monday Anthem and a dance party as they Sing It Together.