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Middle School Music Teachers Spark Passion for the Arts in Ferndale Teens

According to Ferndale’s three middle school music teachers, the early-teen years are a crucial time for learning. That’s exactly why they love teaching at Horizon and Vista.

“We take them through this crazy time in life, when their brains are going through a massive growth spurt,” said middle school orchestra teacher Morgan Schwab. “We all have very special jobs, and we all know it.”

“We’re living the dream!” added middle school band teacher Chelsea Menefee.

Menefee, Schwab and middle school choir teacher Deborah Ogle have been educating Ferndale’s students for a combined 18 years, on top of decades of professional music experience. And they impart important life lessons beyond how to play a tuba or how to sing in-tune.

“We teach students how to focus, how to have determination, how to say, ‘Okay, I made a mistake, but let’s try it again,’” said Menefee.

Other core subjects find their way into Ferndale’s music classes as well, the teachers said. Students learn about the physics of sound waves, use their math skills to count measures, and discover the historical context behind the eras their favorite songs were written.

Ogle also noted that they’re giving students a hobby and skill they can enjoy for most of their life.

“I always tell my students that music is the sport that you can do forever,” she said.

All three teachers have some strategies to get their students invested in their music programs. One method is to have them interact with the high school musicians – whether that’s having the FHS choir perform at Vista and Horizon, or letting the middle schoolers perform with the pep band at a football game.

Performances and competitions also motivate middle schoolers, the teachers said. The middle school and FHS bands joined together in June to win first place at the Lynden Farmers’ Day Parade, and the combined Vista and Horizon orchestra received the high score out of all regional schools at a contest last year in the San Juan Islands.

“After they perform, they’re just fired up,” said Schwab. “At the San Juan contest last year, their competitive spirit just came out.”

Also, of course, it helps when students get to perform songs that they already love, from pep band classics like “Louie Louie” to Disney musical hits.

“Getting the kids involved, part of it has to do with picking repertoire that they really like,” said Ogle. “Right now, my eighth graders are doing High School Musical, and they love it.”

While the students are primarily learning music, middle school music classes provide lots of life lessons as well, the teachers said.

“Our number one goal is to make sure we’re fostering better human beings for the world,” said Schwab. “We just happen to get to play beautiful music at the same time.”