For the past three years, Dr. Jessica and Dr. Tom van Oostrom have been getting all their ducks in a row to form a new Kyrene Elementary Band and Orchestra, and have seen prosperous success with the program.
The couple’s, both elementary school teachers in the Kyrene School District, main focus is providing their school community with the same wonderful musical experience they had growing up.
The two met back in college during the first day of marching band practice, where both were percussion players for California State University-Sacramento.
After graduating, the couple decided to continue with their education and ventured to the East Coast, attending Stony Brook University, where Jessica earned her doctorate in percussion performance and Tom received his doctorate in music composition.
The duo began setting their sights on finding jobs back in California, but were unable to find a job that fit their economic needs to begin raising a family.
“We were kind of gigging, teaching and freelancing for a year, and it wasn’t working out so well because we needed something more stable,” Jessica said.
Instead of staying in California and living paycheck to paycheck, Jessica was accepted in the Teacher for America program, giving individuals who don’t have a teaching degree but experience in their field to become an instructor, and it placed her in the Phoenix area in 2003.
“It’s kind of like the Peace Corps for teaching, where they find people who are highly qualified to teach but don’t have teaching credentials and didn’t do a teaching degree,” Jessica said.
She taught at Roosevelt Elementary School for three years, and Tom began teaching at Kyrene de la Estrella Elementary School in 2005.
While visiting her husband’s classroom, Jessica began to notice all the amenities her husband was given and was interested in becoming a music instructor for the Kyrene School District.
As luck would have it, a position opened up down the street from her husband’s school at Kyrene de la Esperanza Elementary School and Tom convinced his wife to apply for the position.
While teaching at their schools, the couple made the decision to try and create a band and orchestra program, previously unheard of in the district’s elementary level.
“We wanted to do a band and orchestra thing because they don’t do band or orchestra instruments in the Kyrene School District until middle school,” Tom said.
They began instructing classes at three different Kyrene schools, and with the growing popularity of the program the district approached the two with the idea of opening an after-school program for the entire district.
The band and orchestra are open to students from any of the 19 Kyrene Elementary Schools.
More than 85 fourth- and fifth-graders are signed up to practice once a week, and will showcase what they have learned during a performance in the spring at an all-district arts and music festival.
The band and orchestra programs are a way to reinforce what the students have already learned throughout their elementary years, such as reading music and the standard notation of reading music, Tom said.
“It’s building and building until the end of third grade they’re reading standard notation, so the fourth- and fifth-graders in here have some experience,” he said.
Orchestra rehearsals take place each Monday from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. at Estrella, and band rehearsals are on Thursdays at the same time and location.
The two instructors will also plan a small performance at the end of the semester for parents to see what their child has learned, and will continue with the program next year.
For more information on the Kyrene Elementary Band and Orchestra, visit www.kyrene.org.
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