- Sponsorship -

Training voices, cultivating friendships, building confidence

Middle-school choir about more than performing

Crossroads Middle students show that there’s far more to choir than singing; it’s all about having fun and building confidence

Northview — Eighth-grader Nyasia Jacques was in band as a student at Highlands Middle School, but she switched to choir in seventh grade because “I like singing,” she said. “And I didn’t want to carry an instrument around.”

While she’s not ready to sing a solo in front of her peers, Nyasia said she would consider a duet. And thanks to weekly class dance parties, her confidence has grown enough that “I’m finally standing up in front of people and dancing. Just not singing — yet.”

Classmate Laleeya Gutzman likes choir because she gets to be with some of her friends. She admits that missing other classes to perform in concerts is another perk, but there are “also a bunch of other things” about it she enjoys, like the camaraderie that develops among her peers. 

“We all kind of depend on each other, usually,” she said.

Eighth-grader Isaiah Beardsley-Minnema is front row, center, for the dance parties. He said being in choir class allows his outgoing personality to come through.

“I really like Ms. Hjelm,” Isaiah said. “She’s a great teacher and (choir) is just a really fun experience.”

Lea Hernandez wouldn’t call herself an extrovert, but “When I’m having fun, I feel like my personality starts to come out around people.”

All of that is music to Tami Hjelm’s ears. The vocal music teacher at Crossroads Middle — where neither choir nor band is required as it is at Highlands — said “capturing kids’ hearts” is her No. 1 job. 

“If we don’t make this something they want to continue, they will not continue,” she said.

After 29 years leading middle-school choirs, it’s still a given that “One of the hardest things to do at this age is to perform in front of peers,” Hjelm said.  

And while learning to sight read music, singing and performing are still essential elements of being part of a choir, she said, just as important is building confidence and cultivating an atmosphere of trust and safety among students.

“If they are not comfortable and they don’t feel safe or valued,” Hjelm explained, “they are not going to sing.”

To that end, in addition to singing every day and practicing light choreography for performances each semester, dance parties and karaoke happen weekly as well. And the longer into the school year, the more students participate, she said. 

More Music
Watch this middle-school choir recruitment video put together by the Northview music department.

“When I first started teaching, my goal was ‘performance, performance, performance,’” Hjelm recalled. “The older I get, the more I am about helping kids better themselves, feel good in their bodies and to find value in music. 

“For some kids, music is what keeps them coming to school. A lot of kids who are struggling are struggling in every class but music; music is where they thrive. That’s their joy in coming to school.”

Read more from Northview: 
A joyful noise for all
Director takes joy in teaching students

- Sponsorship -
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


Related Articles

- Sponsorship -

Issues in Education

Making Headlines

- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You Live WGVU