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Bridging Adolescence: A River Flows Through Us

Marshwood Middle School, ME

626 Highway 236, Eliot, ME 03903, USA
Marshwood School District
Director: Kristine Bisson
Category: Community Engagement Program
Award: Silver, 2019

Project Description

At Marshwood Middle School, of Eliot and South Berwick, Maine, my seventy-six Grade Seven and Eight Chorus students embraced our sense of place by creating a learning service project to adopt a local landmark and create awareness, give financial support, and discover our local history by embedding our project in our music curriculum and creating an original chorus composition, “The River Sings Its Song”, that was shared with our entire community in our 2018 Spring Concert. Our project, “BRIDGING ADOLESCENCE: A RIVER FLOWS THROUGH US”, allowed our students the opportunity to stretch our classroom walls and go out into our community to explore what this area provides both literally and metaphorically. The young musicians reflected upon their own paths from childhood to adolescence, to adulthood and found that the elements of nature, history, and a sense of belonging are important to the human spirit.

The Great Works River Bridge structure had been condemned for vehicular and pedestrian travel for ten years and destined for removal by the state one year after our work began. Because the bridge had been closed for several years many of my students and their families did not know the structure was in peril, let alone that it existed. In creating our thoughts and written words about this once town landmark, the students were sensitive to capturing the many stages and changes that this area has experienced. The students wanted to express both the state of the decaying bridge and the ever-moving river as the driving force that keeps flowing no matter what the season or changes might bring.

We created our composition with the help of local historians who shared the history of our town and the river’s importance to help our town flourish from its early beginnings in 1630 to present day; we wrote a grant to work with a poet-in-residence to help the students dig deeply and gather their thoughts into one complete lyric; we travelled to the site of the bridge and river to be able to experience and be influenced by the natural beauty; we held a Talent Show fundraiser at the school featuring our chorus students and many members of our entire school population and donated $350.00 to the bridge fund; we worked as a collaborative group to compose melodies, harmonies, and accompaniments and then revised and studied this creation in depth and performed it for an audience of dignitaries (the grant committee, the local historians, the school board, our artist in residence), families, and friends.

The abandoned bridge is being removed this fall and through our students’ efforts, a new footbridge is being constructed in the near future. Our students are proud of their project and the year of work that they were able to reflect in word and in music how important their community truly is.

Target Audience

Our target audience for the project was definitely our students, first. The amount of learning throughout the entire year was outstanding, as the composition process allowed the students to dig deeply to develop composition skills, which is a new learning thread for our students. Secondly, our audience of 600 family, friends, and community members learned about this condemned and forgotten area that now will be a featured natural destination again. Through our students’ fundraising efforts, they were able to make a financial impact to the new Bridge Brigade campaign to construct a timber frame footbridge at this bridge site.

Overview of planning and execution process for this project

  • August 2017: meet with Poet-in-residence, Brian Evans-Jones to plan lessons, Kris’ vision of project
  • August 2017: compose grant writing for Marshwood Education Foundation to explain project, funds needed
  • September 1, 2017: MEF grant approved
  • September 5, 2017: share the project objective of “River” with my chorus students, begin generating student ideas for the construction of an original piece.
  • September 12, 2017: Mr. Evans-Jones introduced to both chorus classes, writing prompt
  • September 18, 2017: meet with local resident and Old Berwick Historical Society representative (Linda Becker) to share historical and current information about the site
  • September 19, 2017: field trip experience to Great Works River and Bridge, six stages of writing and reflecting
  • September 27: engage science teacher, South Berwick resident, and local historian, Mrs. Maureen Martin to share scientific and historical evidence of area
  • September 26, October 10, 17, November 14: Mr. Evans-Jones workshop days. One day per week the students will dedicate their classwork to composing. Ongoing capturing of ideas and learning via photos and video
  • January 2018: student lyrics and construction of the form of the piece will be fleshed out. Written worksheet of lyric thoughts, video, music clips.
  • Feb/March: melodies, harmonies, and accompaniment will be near-complete as students continue to refine, revisit, create, and explore the many possibilities their piece could take.
  • March: Kris present project and learning stages at Oxford Hills Mega-Conference [3.23.18]
  • March / April: revisit and revise music melodies, harmonies, accompaniment and fitting lyrics properly
  • May: present all learning at the annual Maine Music Educators Association All-State Conference at UMaine, Orono.[5.17.18]
  • June 5, 2018: perform the PREMIERE “The River Sings Its Song” with the program notes, program video, live and recorded narration of their learning experience, giant check to present to Great Works Bridge Brigade.
  • June 22, 2018: share learning at Maine Arts Leadership Initiative Teaching Artist training/workshop, Augusta, Maine. [6.22.18]
  • August 2, 2018: share learning at MALI Phase 8 in-service conference, University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME
  • September 28, 2018: share collaboration and student service learning project at Maine International Conference on the Arts, USM, Portland, ME
    October 2018: share learning at area Education Association workshops and in-service conferences [10/18/18: MAMLE], [10/20/18: Maine Educators Association fall workshop]

Sponsors/charities/volunteers/ other groups involved in the project and the benefits to each.

Marshwood Education Foundation: a 501c3 organization that helps support innovative programs for the students of the RSU #35 Marshwood school system. MEF provided a $1,000.00 grant to our project.

The Marshwood Middle School Talent Show is an annual evening talent event that takes donations that help support the Performing Arts programs at school. $350.00 was donated to the Great Works Bridge Brigade to help the cost to construct a new timber frame footbridge. Through our chorus composition project we helped to shed light upon this new grass-roots effort and bring in more donations at our Spring Concert.

Community Impact

Through our project our students were able to extend their learning beyond the four classroom walls to go off campus to experience the Great Works River and Bridge firsthand. They walked the road and trails surrounding the area and wrote of its beauty. A large bulletin board outside of the music room at the middle school was constantly updated with new facts, photos, guest speakers’ historical information, and progress of the composition. We arranged for the scale model of the new design of the Great Works River Foot Bridge was even brought to our classroom and had a month’s residence in our school lobby display case to help share information with our entire student body and all who were guests at our school. A special announcement was made at our annual evening Talent Show where our audience of 400 guests learned about our mission and were educated about the Bridging Adolescence project.

What I believe made the greatest impact on our community is that since the bridge has been closed and condemned for ten years, many of the students’ families did not know the importance of the Great Works River and Bridge until students shared conversations with them regarding our field trip experience, ongoing lyric and music construction, or ultimately, at our concert premiere. It was evident at our concert, when the students presented their powerpoint presentation documenting their learning experience through photos and videos, personal thoughts, and ultimately, their original performance, the audience of family, friends and community members was very moved at the depth of learning our students experienced and how our youth can make a powerful impact on their community.

Specific Budget Breakdown

  • $1,000.00: fee for hiring our poet-in-residence, Mr. Brian Evans-Jones
  • $120.00: fee for bus travel to Great Works River and Bridge
  • $1,000.00 was awarded from the Marshwood Education Foundation grant that I applied for.
  • $120.00 was provided from student fundraising efforts of the Marshwood Middle School Band and Chorus account.

New or recurring project?

New Project

Measurement of the success/effectiveness of this project?

I believe that the students experienced far more learning through this composing experience. I’ve included copies of the assessment tools I designed for providing feedback to the students and to help them process and realize what they have learned. Some of their favorite aspects of the project were being able to have student voice and student choice in the creation of their original work, collaborative learning, growing their musical intellect, and their own personal growth. The students believe that their collaborative writing skills grew as well since they do not do writing of this kind in their language arts classrooms.

Another element of success would be the educational aspect we shared with our school community, families, friends, and audience. At the end of our concert those gathered shared an additional $150.00 that was donated to the Great Works River Bridge Brigade. All of our audience members left our concert with new knowledge about our mission and our chorus continues to educate those in our community still.

Advice for someone looking to replicate this project in their own community?

I would most definitely recommend extending the classroom walls beyond a school and into the community. When students can experience connected learning with the town where they live, deep learning experiences occur. Student-directed learning provides opportunities to steer learning, to draw from the students’ experiences and interests, and to arrive at unpredicted learning targets and goals at occasionally unexpected times. Even though the goals of our project were created before our work began, we kept revising, adding, and designing goals along the way. The students completely understood that this was their project and their work was authentic.

I know that there is something special in each town and city that makes it unique. Find what that is and embrace it.

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