Student Well-Being

Stories to Make You Smile: A Middle School Choir’s Daily Sing-Along

By Catherine Gewertz — April 07, 2020 3 min read
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To help you cope with the chaos of school building closures, remote learning challenges, and deep fears about the health and safety of your students, co-workers, and loved ones, Education Week will bring you some moments of levity and hope from the world of education. If you have a story you’d like to share:

A North Carolina chorus teacher is using what she knows best—music—to get her students through the scary times of the coronavirus pandemic. Even though her middle school students are stuck at home, unable to see their friends, they’re still gathering, virtually, to sing together.

Every day at 2:30 p.m., Julia DeSerio opens Google Meet, and students from her 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade choirs sign in. As she sits at her laptop, their smiling faces pop up in front of her, in that now-familiar Brady Bunch grid. Using karaoke versions of popular songs from YouTube, DeSerio starts the music, and the lyrics appear on everyone’s screens. Suddenly, in a strange new world of isolation, everyone’s singing. Together.

“It feels so good just to interact and laugh and try to find some joy in all this,” said DeSerio, who’s in her second year of teaching, at Crest Middle School in Shelby, N.C.

Ian Willis, an 8th grader who sings tenor, said joining the sing-along on Tuesday was a welcome break from doing math, English, science and history home alone.

“Singing makes me feel better, and it keeps me hoping that all of this [pandemic] will be over soon,” he said.

One little drawback: The kids can’t hear one another. If everyone’s got their mic on, no one can hear the music DeSerio is playing to guide them, and that—together with the internet’s sound delay—creates a jarring cacophony. But each student can sing the same music, at the same time, and they can see one another belting it out, maybe dancing in their bedrooms, smiling.

DeSerio started the sing-alongs only a couple of days after her district closed schools on March 16. She’d used Zoom for her Introduction to Education class in college, so she was comfortable with the idea of online learning. With her kids scattered to their homes, she wondered why she couldn’t do something like that to keep them singing. To keep them connected.

She dug up about 25 old mini piano keyboards and asked her administrators for help. Together, they got batteries into all the keyboards and checked them out to her students.

More than 100 students are in her 6th, 7th and 8th grade choirs combined, but only about 10 are signing on for the daily sing-alongs, DeSerio said. She hopes more will log on now that they’re realizing the sessions are, um, not really supposed to be optional.

DeSerio started out by choosing songs she knew would “hook them” and get them singing, like Lewis Capaldi’s irresistibly syncopated “Someone You Loved” and Sam Smith’s “Too Good at Goodbyes.”

But she wanted the sing-alongs to give her students more than just a fun connection. So her song choices morphed into songs of inspiration. “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammer. “Rise Up” by Andra Day. “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus.

“A lot of my students need this outlet,” DeSerio said. “Music gives us hope. Especially in times like this, we’re searching for something positive we can can connect with, and music is a beautiful way to do that.”

And woven into the music, she’s trying to convey a bigger message.

“I’ve tried to challenge them to think of this in a different way,” DeSerio said. “Instead of being disappointed that it’s not the same as singing together in a choir, it’s making the same music at the same time as your classmates. Even though you can’t hear each other, there is something so beautiful about that.”

Video courtesy of The Shelby Star

Photos courtesy of Julia DeSerio

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.