As budget cuts hit schools in recent years, the art and music department saw the worst of it. Now, Eisenhower Elementary Schools is bringing music back to the forefront of education as part of their Kansans Can School Redesign efforts.

Current USD 418 elementary music teacher Lisa Simmelink will serve as Eisenhower's full time music teacher starting this year and Rebecca Snell will assist other schools.

"The reason we wanted to have our music teacher full time is to allow her to collaborate with our classroom teachers and other specialty areas like art. We are pushing project-based learning in our school redesigning efforts," said school principal Chris Allen.

"I'm excited to just be more part of the staff and of course to continue building relationships and offering more musical opportunities for the kiddos. I think the district is moving in the right direction," Simmelink said.

Due to budget cuts in the past, the school was unable to hire Simmelink full time, but has chosen to increase the use of music in order to implement aspects of the Kansas Can Redesign project.

Before being hired full time at Eisenhower, Simmelink was juggling her time between Eisenhower and Roosevelt Elementary School.

“How it’s set up right now is Washington, Lincoln and Eisenhower have their own teacher for music and Roosevelt shared all three of those teachers. So Lisa taught kindergarten and first grade music at Roosevelt then another teacher taught second and third then another taught fourth and fifth,” Allen added.

“Working between two schools is never ideal because all of us music teachers have certain supplies and certain things that we take along. You have to be super planned ahead so you don’t leave something at the wrong school. My car was like a traveling office wherever I went,” Simmelink said. “It was also difficult because you don’t really feel like a part of either staff because you’re always missing something. Of course you make great relationships with students, which is the most important thing, but it’s also important to be a valued part of the team, so I’m excited about that right now.”

Allen noted that Simmelink did outstanding work outside of her normal work hours to go above and beyond for students at Eisenhower while balancing time between schools.

“Lisa got together outside of her contracted time to put together an awesome experience and project for the kids. Last year the fifth graders did a Native American project where she designed a dance and music to go with it and the kids created exhibits and exhibited them at the McPherson Museum. She added music and rhythm to that exhibit,” Allen said. “We feel like that type of experience is what we want to give our kids all the time.”

Eisenhower is also focusing their time on getting kids up and moving in the morning, which has resulted in jag time.

“We start everyday with rhythm and movement. So from 8 to 8:06 a.m., a song is led by Lisa and it usually has movement to it also and it’s a great way to start the day for everybody. We have everyone in the building in the commons area at that time. That’s another reason we hired her full time,” Allen said. “She was sacrificing her own planning time, which is from 8 to 8:30 a.m. to do this.”

“Kids learn while they move, and a lot of the musical literacy things that we’re doing in music mirrors the regular literacy teachings that’s going on in kindergarten, first and second grade. While I’m teaching them to read music, at the same time they’re learning to read words, which means we’re using a lot of the same skills just in a different way,” Simmelink added.

Only on her second week full time at Eisenhower, Simmelink is already thinking of what she can do for her students in the future.

“We have been working on incorporating music in different ways that we haven’t already been doing. Things like having an extra music class and I’ve been working really hard on collaborating with some of our classroom teachers. We’re trying to incorporate musical elements into the project-based learning. I’ve also been able to have classes with the pre-K that I haven’t gotten to teach before so that’s been wonderful,” Simmelink said. “I’m also working on incorporating some music therapy for kiddos who may be struggling with certain skill sets or emotional sets.”

For more information, call Eisenhower Elementary School at 620-241-9430 or visit their website at https://ees.mcpherson.com.

Contact Brooke Haas by email at bhaas@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter @ MacSentinel.