What I Did Over Summer Break

by Mariah Castillo

Mariah, far right, with her fellow mentors at Gifts of Music.

Overall my summer was very relaxing. I was mostly at home with my family and friends; we didn’t travel very far or go anywhere extravagant (except put our Six Flags Seasons Passes to good use). One of the most memorable parts of my summer break actually took place in my hometown, a sleepy, quiet area of Connecticut.

Before going to Barnard, I was part of a music program in which dedicated students without the means to get private lessons on their own received free one-on-one lessons with professional teachers. I’ve known my violin teacher since the seventh grade and have continued to reach out to her in college. I was unable to bring my violin to college in the fall because it technically belonged to the public school system, but I still kept in touch with my teacher and was able to get an instrument from my town for free. As one way of giving back to the people who helped me so much growing up, I signed up to be a mentor in a new local summer music program.

In the Gifts of Music Sizzling Suzuki program, modeled after the Suzuki style of learning music, elementary school students, ages five to nine, reviewed the skills they learned during the school year. For one half of the daily, hour-long sessions, the students were together for a group class, where my teacher would teach them certain violin skills and techniques. Once the group class was over, the mentors would take their assigned student to a practice room and go over what they had learned. There were four sessions per day, and each mentor was assigned to three or four children.

J-Law volunteers. You should be more like J-Law.

It was quite an experience working with children. My mentees had varying personalities. My youngest student was very energetic and mastered new skills on the first try. Another of my students was very shy and didn’t talk to me or the teacher during the whole session; I had to learn how to read her emotions through her body language. My eldest student has had a history of stage fright and didn’t want to perform for the closing recital, so I had to work on his technique as well as assure him that everything would be fine.

It was new for me to teach little kids how to play violin. What made it even more of a challenge was that I had to switch teaching strategies to fit my students’ learning styles and personalities. For example, with my youngest student I was able to be a bit silly and made her laugh often, but with my really shy student I had to make sure she wasn’t feeling overwhelmed and had to remind her to only fix her posture if I told her to. It was really remarkable to see what students can accomplish in a matter of days; on day one most of them couldn’t even hold the bow correctly, but by the closing recital all of the children looked like pros.

This summer program was one of my favorite experiences this year. Not only was I able to play violin again, something I haven’t done in a long time, but I was also able to inspire children to enjoy music. At a time when music and arts programs are usually the first to be cut in a school budget, I’m proud to know that the program that helped me develop into the person I am today is growing into something big.

Mariah Castillo is a sophomore at Barnard and the Food and New York Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of Gifts of Music and quickmeme.

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