At Laurel Park Elementary in Apex, students learn through music

05/08/2014 1:13 PM

02/15/2015 11:18 AM

The steady drum beat and guitar riffs from Carlos Santana’s version of “Oye Como Va” filled Jennifer Sonstroem’s classroom at Laurel Park Elementary School.

Fourth-graders placed their fingers over keyboards, ready for instruction.

“Find the cowbell on the keyboard,” Sonstroem said as she walked around the room. “Hear the steady beat. Tap, tap. Tap, tap.”

About 30 pairs of hands found the right key. Tap, tap. Tap, tap.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade at Laurel Park Elementary School in Apex are practicing their music skills in a Yamaha Music in Education lab, which features 30 keyboards.

The project is a result of one teacher’s idea and one parent’s determination to raise money.

As of Wednesday, Sonstroem and parent Christina Hair had raised $21,000 over the past two years to bring the lab to the school under a lease-to-own agreement. To keep the keyboards, Laurel Park needs to raise about $12,000 more.

Each year since 2012, the school has hosted a silent auction and raffle as the sole fundraiser for the music lab. This year’s auction is Thursday, May 15.

Sonstroem and Hair hope the community will rally to help the school reach its goal.

“As with any school system, they don’t have enough money to fund things,” Hair said. “If you want it, then you have to go out and get it.”

She said she was inspired to help raise money for the program because of its potential.

“Music, it stimulates the brain,” she said. “I knew it wasn’t going to limit access to any student, even if they had a learning disability. Any child was going to be able to touch a keyboard.”

The keyboards are linked to software and a teacher’s computer that allows for testing and individualized instruction. Sonstroem can beam her keyboard to her classroom’s interactive whiteboard to visually show students the correct notes.

“I like this class because you get to learn different instruments like the drums and the keyboard,” said Andrea Zacharias, 10. “In middle school there’s band, and we get a head start.”

The electric guitar sound was a favorite for Varsh Boorugadda, 10.

“A lot of my favorite songs have electric guitars,” he said.

Caroline Shelton, 10, said she loves the class.

“I love music because it’s a language everyone can speak around the world,” she said. “It helps you relate to your life.”

The students have helped make the lab possible.

“We’ve done it one dollar at a time,” Hair said. “We’ve had children come in with their piggy bank money. Or we hear they ask their parents to do extra chores to help raise money. It’s sweet.”

When Sonstroem was hired in 2008 to start a music program at Laurel Park, then a new school, she knew she wanted to bring in the Yamaha program. As a teacher in Pitt County, she had seen the keyboard lab in action.

With the support of her principal and the parent-teacher association, Sonstroem started to seek donations in December 2010.

In 2012, she received a $3,000 Bright Ideas grant from the N.C. Electric Cooperatives. A few months later, in August, Sonstroem and Hair had collected enough money to open the lab.

“(Students) are getting hands-on music learning,” Sonstroem said. “We get to do more creative projects like composing. They can take quizzes through the keyboard.”

The school’s lab is an opportunity for all students.

“This is important for low-income students who wouldn’t have access to formal music training,” Sonstroem said. “We wanted to provide that opportunity for the kids to have that kind of exposure. Even for our younger students who are intimidated by it, they come in and say, ‘I can actually do this.’ ”

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