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Connecting Music to Kids’ Lives: Ayanda Dalamba, TC’s inaugural Milman Music Education Fellow

Ayanda Dalamba
Ayanda Dalamba

Ayanda Dalamba often asks her students at P.S.154 to make up lyrics about their own lives. Together, the children sing about their parents, their cousins, their meals, their neighborhoods – whatever happened to them that day. 

“It's great to connect our activities to what they know and make their school musical experiences meaningful,” says Dalamba, a master’s degree student who is the inaugural Evalyn Edwards Milman Music Education Fellow.

But because P.S. 154 had no music program before Dalamba’s arrival, and because most of the children have never had any music instruction, making up personal songs is a key strategy – a way of making the unfamiliar familiar.

[ Read more: Celebrating Our Students This Holiday Season ]

In fact, building on children’s knowledge is a key part of the music curriculum that Dalamba is charged with bringing to P.S. 154 (The Harriet Tubman School, in West Harlem), one of several schools in in REACH (Raising Educational Achievement Coalition of Harlem), a network of TC-supported public schools in northern Manhattan.  Developed by TC’s Lori Custodero, Associate Professor of Music & Music Education, the program has been in use for the past six years at the Teachers College Community School in West Harlem.  The program spans pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, mirroring students’ intellectual, psychological and emotional development. It encompasses an introduction to musical notation, violin studies, choral singing, composition, and optional participation in an after-school orchestra.

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Custodero, the co-creator of "WeBop!" at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the Very Young People’s Concerts at the NY Philharmonic, chose Dalamba for the fellowship because the latter was an experienced teacher who loves working with music and children and is committed to social justice. Dalamba grew up in Toronto, and did her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. She studied piano and took singing lessons throughout her childhood, and later taught herself to play the ukulele. After university, she worked as a high school teacher in Toronto for eight years and says she loves urban education, particularly music education. She was drawn to Teachers College because of its focus on social justice and diversity. She’s only been here since September but says “the College has already made a significant impact on my teaching and has changed who I am as a musician and an individual.”

Dalamba’s fellowship is funded by Evalyn Milman, who in 1964 earned a master’s degree in Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College. Milman is a music lover who believes in the power of music to change children’s lives and to embolden their imaginations. She established the fellowship to expand the music program at Teachers College Community School to other urban public schools. And Dalamba is happy to help Milman carry forth that musical mission.

“After I graduate I want to continue teaching music so this fellowship is a wonderful opportunity and an invaluable experience for me and I really appreciate Ms. Milman's support,” says Dalamba. “Working with kids is something I find really rewarding and it's amazing to know that I'm able to make a difference in their lives.” Robert Florida

Published Wednesday, Dec 21, 2016