Catholic Schools Week: Enriching Lives Through the Arts
The arts play a vital role in enriching the lives of students at St. Francis, who share their talents within the school, church and community.
“St. Francis is special because everyone cares so much about the students,” said Mary Ament, choral music instructor and choir director at the school. “There’s a lot of concern and care that goes into the development of the whole student. When I’m teaching music I’m not just teaching music. There is reference to religion and how we can incorporate religion into our lessons and into life.”
Ament teaches music in all grade levels at the school as well as conducts the children’s choir for students in grades 2-5 in the parish and the school’s Middle School Choir. Both choirs perform special music during Mass and form cantor groups to lead the singing of the Psalms.
“They minister with music at the weekly school Masses and lead Sunday Mass music,” Ament said.
The choirs have performed at St. John Catholic Church in Bloomville and in the chapel at Bell Tower Residence and led sing-a-longs at Pine Crest Nursing Home. As a special treat the choirs attended a performance by the African Children’s Choir at the Grand Theater last fall.
The entire school takes part each year in a Christmas concert performing pieces learned in general music classes and incorporating drums, recorders and other instruments.
“In general music they started a course called ‘World Music Drumming’, so even if they don’t enjoy singing they learn about music through the drumming,” Ament said. “We start them really young and my job is to try and find the type of music which appeals to kids and to find something they enjoy.”
Eighth grader Faith Wheat has been a part of the choir at St. Francis for three years. She has participated in the regional Wisconsin Music Teachers Association Solo and Ensemble competition and recently accompanied the Middle School Choir on the xylophone at the school Christmas concert.
“Choir is just a really fun class,” she said. “I learn a whole bunch of new music and a whole bunch of different types of music too. I play piano, so music is a big thing for me. It’s kind of a way to express myself.”
In March St. Francis students will participate in Opera for the Young, a one day performance workshop designed to introduce opera at the basic level. Students will have the opportunity to perform with a youth based opera company in a production of “Cinderella.” The program is made possible by a grant from the Merrill Community Foundation.
“It’s a great opportunity to teach them an appreciation for opera,” Ament said. “I’ve done this before in other schools and the kids just eat it up. They love drama and theater.”
Starting with grade four students are given the option to begin playing a band instrument. One on one or small group lessons are held once a week at the school.
Band instructor Jennifer Heisinger says learning to play an instrument benefits her students both in and out of the classroom.
“I do think music is very important,” she said. “Learning to play an instrument helps them with coordination and responsibility and it even helps them with their reading.”
To help her students gain performance experience Heisinger encourages her students to play in public whenever they can. Her students have enhanced the worship services by playing in weekly Mass and have combined with other parochial schools to form a band for two formal concerts each year. They also perform in the Wisconsin Music Teacher Associations competition each year.
Heisinger and clarinet student Kaitlyn Arndt performed a duet during Mass in early December. Arndt, a first year band student, also played a solo before the school Christmas concert.
“That was the first time I had performed in public,” she said. “I was nervous but once I got into the song it was o.k. I think it’s cool to play for other people. It makes you feel kind of proud.”
Sharing her creative talents with the school, art instructor Patti Gessler teaches all grade levels in the art program at St. Francis. Working in a variety of art mediums from basket weaving and block printing to sculpture and pottery Gessler strives to make the program innovative and fun.
“We don’t do the same art projects every year,” said Gessler who also teaches phy ed and religion. “I try to rotate the projects each year so I’m teaching the same concepts but with different projects.”
Gessler also plans a major project each year as a special activity for the older students. Past projects have included transforming chairs and shoes into art and creating life size human sculptures from plastic wrap.
In addition to the regular art curriculum students participate in extra art related activities such as the International Lions Peace Poster Contest sponsored by the local Lions Club and the Diocese Calendar Contest. Students also enter work in the Lincoln County Fair.
“We do a lot of extra things like entering art contests,” Gessler said. “We’ve done extremely well at district competition for the poster contest. It’s nice to hear a critique from someone else.”
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