Silly songs sharpen students’ serious skillsAug 03, 2022 08:45PM ● By Jet Burnham
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
When a teacher plays “The Get Ready Song,” students at Kauri Sue Hamilton School follow what the lyrics tell them to do, to “put your feet on the floor and your hands on your knees” and they know “it’s time to get quiet and look at me [the teacher].”
“When we play it at the beginning of classes, the students know that it is time to learn and what they need to do to get ready to learn,” said Gabi Evans, a teacher at KSHS, a school for students with severe disabilities. “We have a few students that even start singing before we can start playing it.”
Cassie Bringhurst, who has been the music therapist at KSHS for three years, wrote “The Get Ready Song,” “The Transition Song” and the “School-Wide Rules Song” to teach behavioral expectations and increase on-task behaviors.
“'The School-Wide Rules Song’ is a cool example of Cassie taking the vision we had for our school, and not simply implementing it, she enhanced this idea and made it more fun and enjoyable for our entire school,” KSHS Principal Courtney Titus said.
It’s Bringhurst’s job as a music therapist to reinforce learning and skills and to help students meet their IEP goals; It’s her passion to do it in a fun and creative way.
“Music therapy is using music to achieve a non-musical skill,” Bringhurst said. “So, the medium is always music, but we're working on an actual task, so that might look different.”
In group classes, students play the ukulele to learn letters or colors. They play songs on the piano to develop fine motor skills. They pound on table drums to develop gross motor skills.
“Especially with some of the kids in the wheelchairs, that have limited physical abilities, it's more about that whole entire sensory integration and exploration and getting them to reach out and try new things,” Bringhurst said.
Evans said music class activities reinforce the skills her students are working on in class, from interpersonal skills, such as turn-taking, to communication skills.
“Cassie is awesome with integrating what they are learning in speech, so they get more opportunities to practice their modes of communication and new words,” Evans said.
Students are excited to go to music class, which means they are more engaged.
“Even if they don't express interest in a lot of other things, I feel like I can get the most out of them with music,” Bringhurst said. “They just light up and smile and they giggle and they laugh and they do a lot during music.”
Titus said Bringhurst has a positive effect on both students and staff members.
“I watch her connect with every single child that she interacts with and I think that inspires teachers and support staff to feel more comfortable in trying to connect with each child,” Titus said. “Our students light up as they come into her classroom and listen to her sing. She has a gift of not only teaching them, but really bringing them joy.”
Armed with her guitar, Bringhurst writes songs for students who have extended stays at the hospital and songs to remember students who pass away. She also writes silly songs to encourage communication skills, to reinforce behaviors, to review concepts, to celebrate holidays, or, as she did in 2020, to help students adjust to the new normal of masking and social distancing.
Bringhurst also works one-on-one with students like Tyler, who practices his communication skills as he chooses lyrics for the songs they write together.
Bringhurst spotlights all the students and staff members in the annual Spring Fling musical performance, whether they are in costume onstage or pressing buttons backstage.
“Her influence and expertise is felt throughout the entire school. She makes every team better,” Titus said.
Bringhurst was chosen by her colleagues—who describe her as positive, supportive, selfless, creative, sensitive and kind—as Kauri Sue Hamilton School’s 2022 Jordan Education Foundation Outstanding Teacher of the Year.