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Grant award helps SCC students rock their world

Fifth-grader Zeke Orme strums to the music in Michelle Schmitt's class.1 / 3
Fifth-grader Michaela Vasser strums to the beat of "Rock Around the Clock" in Michelle Schmitt's music class.2 / 3
Fifth-grader Moqui Huberty sings along as classmate Ben Golden plays the guitar in music class.3 / 3

Receiving a St. Croix Valley Foundation Music Education Grant was music to Michelle Schmitt's ears.

Schmitt, the St. Croix Central Elementary and Middle School vocal music teacher, applied for the grant in October 2010 and in December received $4,140 to purchase some "rocking" instruments for her classroom.

"With the grant, I hired the Whitesidewalls to perform at our school (their first school performance), and bought four electric guitars, two bass guitars, amps, a drum set, as well as the accessories that go with these instruments. I already had a few keyboards and acoustic guitars in use at my school," said Schmitt.

The new instruments helped Schmitt fine tune her new "Middle School Rocks" unit, teaching her students about music from the 1950s.

"We learn about all different ages, genres and cultures through music classes. In this particular unit, we're focusing on early rock and roll because of it's accessibility and the fact that the early rock and roll is appropriate for in-school use," said Schmitt.

Schmitt's students are learning to play the instruments and sing to the 50s classic, "Rock Around the Clock."

Schmitt said she started the unit with "Rock Around the Clock" because, "It only uses three guitar chords, so it was a great song to start on, it's appropriate for school and it's a fun song to perform."

Schmitt said she strives to give her students a variety of experiences in the classroom.

"I chose this project in particular because I knew they had a lot of interest in this kind of music and kids think these instruments are 'cool.' I knew learning these instruments would be interesting to them. And they are having enough fun to not realize how much they're learning ... like steady beat, history, rhythms, music reading and even chord analyzing," said Schmitt.

Schmitt said her fifth-graders are learning faster than she'd anticipated. She's also been amazed with the teamwork her students have used to learn together.

"I can depend on them to help each other a lot. It's pretty tough to teach a group of 25 how to play the guitar all by yourself ... it's so 'hands on.' So in the beginning, I taught to a group of six or so, and then they taught to another group of 6, and they taught to the next group, and so on (with my supervision, of course). And then they help each other out along the way as well."

Whitesidewalls Workshop

On April 15, the fifth-graders will participate in a workshop with The Whitesidewalls.

"The performers will introduce themselves to the students, introduce their instruments (explain and play), talk about what it's like to be in a musical group/traveling band, listen to some student performers and respond, then open the floor for questions," Schmitt said. "The students are excited for the workshop. Right now we're working on developing a specific list of questions to ask, so we'll be prepared."

After the workshop, The Whitesidewalls will perform at a dance that is open to the public.

"The students have been very motivated and dedicated to learning the new instruments and music, and they show a lot of enthusiasm for the upcoming dance," Schmitt said.



The dance will be open to the public on Friday, April 15, from 3-5 p.m. in the St. Croix Central Middle School large gym.

The admission price is $5 for adults and $3 for children 10 and younger.

The fifth-graders decided they'd like to offer a family price of $20 for those with large families, as well as a reduced price of $3 for those who come dressed in 50s attire.

The Whitesidewalls play music from classic doo-wop to rockabilly and pounding rock and roll.

All proceeds from admission prices will pay for next year's Whitesidewalls performance "so we can share in the fun with next year's fifth-graders," said Schmitt.

Schmitt asks the community to, "Please come join the fifth-graders of St. Croix Central Middle School and The Whitesidewalls and experience why 'Middle School Rocks!'"

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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