In Amanda Hite’s music class, there’s always a lot of moving and shaking going on.
Stoney Creek and Pine Island elementary students dance, wave scarves, toss balls and play with fun instruments to the notes and rhythms of classical composers. To Hite, music is a full-body, hands-on experience.
She brings the “Wall of Dead Guys” hanging in her room — pictures of “guys” like Mozart, Beethoven and Bach — back to life with pizazz and energy.
“They love it,” Hite said of her students. “They ask, ‘Are we going to do Mozart today?'” She noted studying classical composers in her class involves choreographing a dance to the A, B and C notes– a different action per note– to famous music.
Things like tennis balls can help children understand music using more than just their ears, she added.
“They’ll create rhythm, like something everybody knows, ‘Duh duh duh DUH,'” she said, stressing those four famous notes from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. “They will have to use the tennis ball to somehow replicate that pattern of music.
“When they have something in their hands, it’s more tactile. It appeals to more styles of learning. Having instruments, having something in their hands, is exciting and it brings the music to life.”
Student Julianna Tiensivu agrees. “What I like about music class and Mrs. Hite is we do a lot of fun stuff and dancing,” she said. “She’s always been my favorite music teacher.”
Enthusiasm behind the Songs
Hite, who has taught at Comstock Park for 12 years, shares her time between Stoney Creek and Pine Island schools. She teaches kindergarten through fifth-grade students not only about music, but to love music.
She’s made a big effort to turn her classroom into a concert/dance floor/music medley of sorts. The space didn’t come stocked with instruments. Now there are keyboards, drums and percussion instruments from “boom-whackers” to bells, shakers and guiros, a type of Latin American percussion instrument.
“When I first got handed the keys at Stoney Creek, I looked and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness,'” Hite recalled. “I had like five CDs and some rusty jingle bells. I thought, ‘This doesn’t look exciting.’ I want the kids to walk in and be excited and looking forward to class, saying, ‘I wonder what we are going to use today.'”
So she made a commitment to continually crank up their interest level by seeking outside help. “I am a huge grant person because there is not a lot of funding in the arts but there are a lot of grants out there for the arts.”
Grants Enhance Program
Every year Hite applies for at least two grants, and she has received a total of 16. The most recent is a $1,000 grant from Meemic Insurance that she will use to purchase three xylophones. Past grants include an allocation from Target and the Comstock Park Educational Foundation to purchase keyboards, and funds for many other instruments.
An “Artist in Residence” grant from The Grand Rapids Symphony will bring in musicians to perform in skits and small ensembles next school year. Third-graders will go on a field trip to watch a performance by William Vits, lead percussionist for the symphony.
Symphony members will also bring in an assortment of instruments for fourth-graders to try out, and fifth-graders will go to a concert tailored toward students entering middle-school bands. Kindergarten through second-graders annually go to the symphony’s Lollipop concert, a trip funded by another grant.
Hite is still excited about the keyboards that line the back of her Pine Island classroom, purchased about five years ago.
“Piano is my major,” she explained. “If you start with piano it leads to better singing and playing any other instruments. There are so many studies that say it leads to better reading as well.”
“My fifth-graders that are leaving can all play ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Ode to Joy,’ and some of them can play ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ and ‘Happy Birthday,'” she added proudly.
Hite was a stay-at-home mother for six years, raising her twin daughters, Aimee and Allison, before she began teaching in Comstock Park. Before that, she taught second grade and music in Delaware, where she lived with her husband, A.J. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, where she came close to majoring in math.
Comstock Park Superintendent Ethan Ebenstein said Hite is “spectacular.”
“Amanda is a phenomenal teacher who is extremely creative and enthusiastic,” he said. “It is clear how much she loves her job and students, and each day she brings a great deal of energy with her to every class. She has had a tremendous impact on students, staff and parents alike over the years.”
For Hite, it’s just about doing what she loves.
“I wouldn’t change this for anything in the world. Here I thought I was going to be a calculus professor, and I think how boring would my life be.”
She recalled a student asking her what she does for her job. He was astounded to learn teaching music is her job, and he said, “You get paid for this?”
“I said, ‘Yeah, I get paid to sing, dance and play all day.'”