Giving Small Town Music Programs a Chance: VH1 Save The Music Foundation Grants St. Paul Montessori School
Timothy Hofmann, Principal of Parkway Montessori Middle School in St. Paul, Minnesota, recently sat down with Rod Berger to discuss the significance of being the recipient of the 2016 Keys + Kids Grant. Hofmann highlights the importance of applying to grant programs like VH1 Key + Kids in creating opportunities and exploration for student growth. Hofmann adds his enthusiasm to the belief that failure only comes through not trying.
Rod Berger: I’m really looking forward to this conversation as we continue to look at music and education and those that are supporting the cause of the arts around the US in such a profound manner. We want to remind everybody, first off, that this interview is brought to you by Soundtrap, make music and podcasts online, a collaborative tool for the modern classroom and a Google for education partner.
Well, Tim, being a principal, you now get to talk about being a recipient of the 2016 Keys + Kids grant via the VH1 “Save The Music Foundation”. What is so interesting to me in your role as principal is, how you think of the impact for your school. Tell me about the process of applying. What were some of the discussions prior to the application?
Timothy Hofmann: Well, the application came to light thanks to my music teacher – surprise there. She brought it to my attention as something that could potentially solve a major problem we’ve had since we’ve opened the building – not having a decent piano for performances, and not having a decent piano for when the students in the piano class itself are doing their assessment pieces. So, she brought this up as a potential.
I think she applied before when she was at her previous school and didn’t get it. She brought it up and told me what it was about. Of course, I’ve heard of the VH1 Save The Music Foundation but not the “Keys + Kids” portion of it, so I dove into that a little bit and we talked about it and laid out what we would do in terms of the application.
She really took it and ran it from there. Our music teacher, Miss Stephanie, is phenomenal, she’s very creative and solves problems every time something comes up. After our conversations, she presented it and said, “Oh yeah, by the way, I need you write a letter of support.” That was really my biggest contribution, probably, other than giving her support and giving her ideas, and talking through the application – she did most of the legwork.
If You Are Someone Who Would Rather Listen…click play. Otherwise, enjoy the rest of the interview below!
RB: Tim, let’s talk a little bit about it from your perspective of being a principal at the school and when you look at the arts. Nationally, the arts are what seem to be cut from schools and districts. It’s a challenge to provide the right value for kids and teachers in that area. What is it like from your perspective in trying to support when you sometimes do not have the funds – knowing the value that the arts with resources can bring?
TH: You know, a couple of things; I’m very fortunate to be in a district in St. Paul that supports the arts. And in the State of Minnesota that values arts education. The commissioner of education, Dr. Brenda Cassellius stated many times that she believes that every student should have access to the arts, every student should have access to physical education, as much as reading, math and, science – a holistic approach to a child’s wellbeing. And our district leadership has also echoed that.
So, my role is pretty well supported. I come from a personal philosophy where I think you need to be able to offer as many opportunities as possible and as much as you can to the students so that they can feel themselves becoming who they are. And especially at middle school age where students are really beginning to emerge as the young adults that they’re going to be. They need to explore different avenues of themselves. Whether it’s out on the athletic field, whether it’s in the classroom, in science, mathematics, whether it’s literature, writing or on the stage or with an instrument or with their voice, they need to have those opportunities.
And fundamentally, it’s a part of my philosophy of student development. That’s kind of where I’ve come from and I’m fortunate to be in a system and in a situation where there seems to be a lot of like-minded people with similar approaches.
RB: When you think about the community, and to your point about the commissioner of education in Minnesota, there’s an attitude communicated to educators in the state. There is a real impact when you bring a resource that draws attention and value to the school’s community.
I interviewed another recipient of the 2014 VH1 Save The Music Foundation, and she talked about the overall impact for the entire school. Not only the publicity but also the pride that it brought with it. Have you thought about the implications of the announcement as you enter the next phase of the process?
TH: I never really thought of that part. The whole idea was never about the publicity or the things that we as a school could gain, it came from the point of view, “what can we do to service our students better.”
The ultimate goal for us as educators is to help our children become better people and be better prepared for the future. So, that honestly was always the goal. Just receiving this was exciting. We got the announcement that we received it on the day of our Spring Arts Night – which was coincidental.
Literally at the concert that night, after the band and after our choir were done performing and we were saying basically goodbye for the year because that was our last big Art’s Night Festival – it was a real honor to be able to announce it to everybody. And as a community, they were so excited. Our whole gymnasium was filled and it was wonderful to be able to talk about the support from a national level to us – a small Montessori Middle School in St. Paul, Minnesota.
It’s always been about what we could do to really help the students. I will tell you that there is a serious sense of pride when something like this happens and you get a substantial piece of equipment. Students are well aware of what our financial constraints, in fact, the piano we had was pretty tinny sounding and wasn’t the greatest quality.
We actually just did a community service with a church and got another piano donated to us. It was a couple steps up from the tinny sounding one we had. It’s still in pretty rough shape, but a step up. And so this one – something of this quality, for our students to be able to hear themselves playing, is just a treat.
RB: Yeah, it’s neat to hear in your voice. I can almost imagine when you were able to make the announcement at the festival, and everybody was excited. It’s just so nice to be recognized in that way. I think what VH1 is doing with the “Save The Music Foundation” is impactful for people.
What message do you have for those out there that think, “well, we’re just a smaller school, we’re not in a major Metropolitan area like New York or LA.” What do you say to other school leaders and educators about opportunities like this? You went for it; your teacher brought it to your attention, and it says something to me that you shouldn’t sit and rest on being in a small location. You can reach out, and there are people who want to give back.
TH: As a person that works in public education, you’re always operating in a world of economics. There’s always a scarcity of resources in everything that we do, and we have to make choices. Ultimately, like you said, the things that are going to take the hit are the things that aren’t tested with no data points.
We can show as much research as possible or talk about how music impacts test scores and helps with mathematics and things of that nature. But, you know, the reality is, it just doesn’t get equated into a one to one ratio.
We’ve got to be creative, and we’ve got to be adventurous on how we’re going to satisfy the need to give our students a full opportunity. And so in my mind you take a chance, fill out an application and at least try.
Whether you’re from a small, rural town or from, New York City, the reality is, you have students that matter, and you have students that you’re in charge of giving the best shot possible at becoming fully actualized adults.
My mind is – why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you take a shot at something like that? And if they say no, they say no, and you can at least say, “Okay, we took a chance with that.” Anytime you do something like that, there are some explorations, some thought processes that go into it that can lead to other things. So, even if you don’t get the grant you applied for, maybe it starts a conversation or sparks ideas of how you might be able to do some things without the grant. The thought process and the energy are still there.
RB: I love your enthusiasm; it’s great when we see the support from the administrative side with the teachers in the classroom because it does make a difference. It’s so nice to be able to see the impact of VH1 “Save The Music Foundation” has made not only for schools like yourself, but other schools around the country. Timothy, continued success to you and Parkway Montessori Middle School in St. Paul, Minnesota. We want to thank our sponsor of the interview, Soundtrap, make music and podcasts online, a collaborative tool for the modern classroom.
Timothy Hofmann is the Principal of Parkway Montessori Middle School in St. Paul, Minnesota
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