A recent morning found Kiara Menzia, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, in a classroom creating music. Using a variety of instruments – a triangle, maracas, blocks of wood, she asked kindergartners which sounded like a certain farm animal.
As part of her music education major, Menzia is spending Monday mornings this semester as an assistant to music teacher Holly Vine at Woodside Elementary School in Wisconsin Rapids. The Milwaukee native volunteers in the classroom with kindergartners and fifth graders as they learn how to appreciate music and gain skills such as listening, sharing and working together.
She is one of 42 UW-Stevens Point music education students serving practicums in music classrooms in local schools, mentored by local teachers.
“I’m seeing how I might fit into the teacher role,” said Menzia. “I’m learning a lot about what goes into the job…how to deal with the administrative side, working with students with an individualized education plan (IEP) and creating lesson plans that keep kids engaged. Watching Holly has been very educational.”
Vine appreciates having practicum students in her class. “I’m always happy to have extra hands,” she said. “It is also great to see people that want to be teachers and make a difference that way.”
Menzia initially planned to study biology for pre-med at UW-Stevens Point. But she missed the days she spent playing music in high school and leading fellow students as a drum major.
“I realized I didn’t want to spend my time in a lab,” she said. “I wanted to be playing music and teaching music.”
She has found a great support system in the UW-Stevens Point music and music education faculty, she said. As part of the 4+1 program, she will overlap graduate classes with her undergraduate program to put her on a fast track to earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music education and a graduate certificate in music theory.
“My first week I already knew I’d made the right choice in music education,” Menzia said. “The right school, the right experiences, the right degree.”
Brandon Bellile, a sophomore choral music education major from Hortonville, is volunteering on Fridays at John Muir Middle School in Wausau. He works with music teacher Maria Baumann.
“The experience has been so much fun,” said Bellile. “It’s solidified that teaching is my thing.”
He said that Bauman fosters an environment where students feel comfortable and included. “She makes herself relatable to students, and her energy is great.” She has inspired him to want to start his career in a middle school before he teaches at a high school, he said.
“Brayden has been doing a great job connecting with my students,” said Baumann. “It is helpful for my students to see a multifaceted musician in the classroom – Brayden is not only a singer, but also a guitar player, he’s in a band, and records his own music. This is all hugely inspirational to young musicians. I hope he leaves feeling that he has gained connections in the music education world, as he can contact me or any of my music colleagues for help or advice in the future.”
Ultimately, Bellile, music director of the “On Point” student tenor and bass a capella group, hopes to teach high school choir and lead his students in their own a capella groups.
“My professors have been great role models,” he said, mentioning his vocal and choral Professors Cody Miller, Tim Buchholz and Matthew Markham as well as Director of Music Education Rachel Brashier. “The music education program integrates your interests, and it all works together in a concise way.”
Brashier said the program focuses on active and integrated music education (AIME), which certifies students in all areas. Vocal students take instrumental classes, and instrumental students take voice. All students take part in conducting large groups as well.
“It’s a hallmark of our program and a huge resume builder,” she said. In 2021, the department hosted the first AIME conference, inviting music teachers and music education students from across the state to attend virtual discussions and presentations on the integrated curriculum. The second annual conference was held in person at UW-Stevens Point in 2022.
“Overall, I feel I am becoming a very well-educated educator,” said Bellile. “Throughout my education I’ve been surrounded by impactful teachers. I want to share those experiences with my future students.”
“It takes somebody special to be a teacher,” Vine said. “What I hope for these music education students is to share their love and passion for music with the kids. We need the arts for future generations.”