ON THE SCENE: Creating eye-opening experiences for local youth

Trumpet musicians Brianne Borden and Luke Spence from the Potsdam Brass Quintet interact with students Monday, May 22 at the Lake Placid Elementary School. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Many young people of our region have not had the opportunity to experience some remarkable assets of our area, be they hiking in the woods, attending a Lake Placid Sinfonietta concert, or visiting historic sites such as the John Brown Farm State Historic Site and Fort Ticonderoga, natural wonders such as High Falls Gorge and Ausable Chasm or theme parks like Santa’s Workshop.

John Brown Lives! and the Lake Placid Sinfonietta recently provided a range of stimulating experiences by forging partnerships with schools and seeking funding opportunities targeted for youth.

Funded by a Connect Kids grant from the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, these opportunities were designed to increase youth visitation to parks. Developed in partnership with Saranac Lake Central School District’s Petrova Elementary School, John Brown Lives! was able to provide 51 children with the chance to participate in a nature walk at the John Brown farm, learn about the famed abolitionist, visit his and wife Mary’s home, and hear why John and Mary Brown refused to wear cotton and how their values are gaining influence today.

“We have some kids in our school who’ve never been on trails, so that’s been a huge experience for them,” said Jennifer Reome, Petrova second-grade teacher. “For all of them, seeing the farmhouse and hearing their questions about the comparisons when they realized that there is a kitchen, dining room, and a bedroom all in one room, they were astounded. They want to touch everything. At the gravesite, they learned about aspects of the War of 1812, which is part of our curriculum. Learning about John Brown, though, was a whole new piece for us.”

Reome said the experience was eye-opening for the teachers and their students and that they will be able to incorporate more of the John Brown history into their lesson plans for next year.

Jennifer Reome, Petrova Elementary School second-grade teacher, poses with a student at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Temnit Muldowney said it was incredible that all their second graders could experience John Brown’s farm and the other activities. Muldowney was the point person working with Martha Swan and JBL’s educators to shape a program that would have the most impact and have the students rotating through various experiences. She also said that they’d never had a field trip to the farm in her 16 years of teaching in Saranac Lake.

“How lucky we are to have this historic site and all this history practically in our backyard,” said Muldowney. “Many of them had never been here, so I think learning about this farm’s historical significance is life-changing for many of them. I hope many of the children will return with their families, and our teachers will make it a yearly experience.”

The program offered was crafted for children, in this case, elementary school students. Led by JBL’s Amy Robinson, the nature walk helped the children become aware of the wide variety of plants on a lawn, along a trail and on a pond’s edge.

The students learned that the Browns would not wear cotton because slave labor grew and harvested the cotton. They also learned that if the Browns were alive today, they would refuse to wear fast fashion, cheap clothing used for a short while, and then discarded with its fibers and toxic dyes becoming a significant source of environmental pollution. Further, the Browns would raise awareness that Fast Fashion clothing is created by exploited, underpaid workers.

As an activity that helped tie the threads together, children learned how to weave a reading rug for their library out of strips cut from surplus T-shirts.

(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“I think it’s a vibrant program,” said long-time public school educator Martha Swan, founder and director of John Brown Lives!. “I hope other area districts will reach out to us; we can help direct them to state funding opportunities and craft educational experiences geared to any class. The Connect Kids grant will reimburse schools for the travel costs and JBL for the program expenses.”

Another vital educational experience was a one-day in-school residency by the Potsdam Brass Quintet made possible by the Glenn and Carol Pearsall Adirondack Foundation, the Sinfonietta’s Education Committee and Mr. Mike’s Pizza Restaurant, which hosted a reception. The Potsdam Brass Quintet, one of the oldest in the nation, held a series of master classes and performances on Monday, May 22, at the Lake Placid elementary and middle-high schools and St. Agnes School. The day wrapped with a free public concert at Mr. Mike’s.

The three-school artist residency program featured a wide array of musical experiences led by one of America’s oldest professional brass quintets comprised of Crane Music School faculty. The quintet has performed in concert throughout much of the U.S. and Canada, including performances at New York’s Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Clearly, their best audiences were in the schools as they watched the enthralled expressions of the children and answered their myriad of questions.

Neat also is that members of the quintet all took up music in elementary school; thus, performing at the local elementary schools was extra special.

“I’m grateful that the quintet can perform here as it will expose the children to mostly classical music, which is a different kind of music than they normally experience,” said LPES Principal Sonja Franklin. “They will also see instruments they might be interested in playing someday, whether as a hobby, a profession, or just enjoyment. Music participation is important because it stimulates and exercises a different part of the brain. We find that musicians do well in math, yes, it’s an art, but it’s also a very technical field.”

Amy Robinson, John Brown Lives! educator, watches kids weave a rug at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Substitute music teacher Lynn DeWalt agreed; he also felt that it was important for youth to hear live music again, as many missed out during the pandemic, and to see older adults playing music as it’s a life-long skill that people can enjoy.

“The kids had so many questions,” said tuba player Charles Guytuba. “They commented on how loud and shiny our instruments were and wanted to know what tunes we could play, which is common for this age group. But just seeing the joy on their faces, they light up when they hear beautiful sounds, perhaps up close for the first time; this has been a lot of fun.”

The kids also wanted to know if there were big and little trumpets, how they work, what the musicians love to play, and when they started and on what instrument. French Horn player Lauren Becker got requests for “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” music, the McDonald’s theme song, and many questions about all the valves and tubes on her horn and how it worked.

As for the kids, their biggest disappointment was when the music ended, and they had to go back to class.

“Will you come back tomorrow?” one eagerly asked to the many nods of others.

Second-grade teacher Temnit Muldowney poses with John Brown Lives! Executive Director Martha Swan at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the Lake Placid News for more than 15 years.)

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