I had the pleasure of accompanying the graduate students on Friday, December 19, to Cleveland Elementary School for a music program, “An Eclectic Collection of Holiday Songs.” We were the guests of the school’s principal, Dr. Bill Klein, who is also one of the adjunct instructors in the Lakeland graduate program. He was very happy to welcome the Malawians to his school, and the Lakeland students were very happy to be there.
Dr. Bill Klein, far left, with the Malawi students and front office staff at Cleveland Elementary School.
Upon arrival, we toured the school building and visited the front office, the library/computer lab, the art room, and two classrooms, one for kindergarteners and one for second graders. In each classroom, Dr. Klein introduced the Malawians to the children and explained that these visitors were his students at Lakeland College and that they had come to study in the United States from a place very far away. He explained that the country of Malawi was on the continent of Africa, and he asked the children if they could tell him how one would get to Malawi. “Could you use a car?” he asked. The children were quite sure a person would need either a boat or a plane.
The Malawians had front row seats for the concert, where about 250 parents had gathered in the gymnasium to listen to their children sing. The music director at Cleveland is Lisa (Landwehr) Whelton, who is a 1988 alumna of Lakeland’s music education program. She led the children, from kindergarteners through fifth graders, in a lively program that featured many fun and energetic holiday songs. The children added percussion, hand gestures, and body movements that created an uplifting and entertaining show. You didn’t need to be related to these children to enjoy their performance. That’s how good it was.
I asked the graduate students afterward about music in schools in Malawi, and I learned that children do sing in school, as part of the “expressive arts” curriculum. What the Malawians found most impressive about the activity we had just witnessed at Cleveland Elementary was the involvement of parents. It really struck the Malawians how great it was that parents would take time to be present for their children in this way.
In addition, they were curious about the fact that public school students do not wear uniforms (as they generally do in Malawi). Phillip Nachonie pointed out how important it is to teach children things and then give them the opportunity to show off what they have learned. Everyone agreed that this opportunity to “show off” would be something to take home to Malawi with them.
One final highlight of the day was at the end of the concert when we met with Lisa Whelton and a fourth grade teacher, Dawn Wood, who is a 2009 alumna of Lakeland’s M.Ed. program. It was a lovely moment to have these two LC alumnae exchanging stories with the Malawian students about favorite professors: Khodavandi, Elder, Homstad, and Schilcutt to name a few. There was much laughter, a sense of camaraderie, and the invitation from Dr. Klein to return to the school in the future.
It was such a wonderful afternoon. What better way to celebrate the Christmas season? Songs were sung, cookies were shared, friends were made.
The graduate students with Lisa (Landwehr) Whelton '88 at far left and Dawn Wood '09 at far right.
Bertha Singini with two new friends, Christopher and Jacob.