Classical music has the Bachs and the Schumanns. Jazz has the Marsalis and Brubeck families.
And then there are the Lügohart cousins, Emily, Daniel and Summer, who span both genres. Violinists Emily, 13, and Daniel, 12, have played on the plaza at Lincoln Center and other prominent New York City venues, while pianist Summer, 7, has provided impromptu percussion on the stage of the venerable East Side club, the Jazz Standard.
Clearly music is in the Lügohart DNA, but the youngsters credit their school with a major assist.
“A lot of schools put pressure on students to learn,” says Daniel, a sixth-grader who has aspirations to become a geochemist. “Our school says ‘We’ll show you how to learn so you can succeed on your own.’”
A lot of schools put pressure on students to learn. Our school says ‘We’ll show you how to learn so you can succeed on your own.’
—Daniel Lügohart, TCCS sixth-grader
The Lügoharts attend the Teachers College Community School (TCCS), a pre-K(four)-8 public school that the College founded with the New York City Department of Education in 2011. TCCS offers children from Upper Manhattan’s Harlem, Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights neighborhoods an opportunity to learn in an academically-rich, culturally diverse environment. TCCS occupies two buildings: the 3-8th grade “Upper School” on Morningside Avenue and the Pre-K-2nd grade Lower School on West 132nd Street.
“This is truly a community – a melting pot of all of New York in one school,” says Saralinda Lügohart, mother of Summer and aunt of Emily and Daniel (and of three other TCCS students, first-graders LeeAnn and Jay and pre-kindergartener Camilla), and parent member of the School Leadership Team.
“Fundamentally, we’re an inclusion school. We are diversified by our student population, ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic status,” says Principal Michelle Verdiner. “Our staff is also very diverse, so every child can look around and see someone who represents them.”
They can hear that representation as well – particularly through musical experiences led by TC student teachers such as L.C. Katy Ho Weatherly (Ed.D. ’19, M.Ed. ’16,).
As a conservatory-trained violinist and violist, Weatherly, who directed the TCCS Orchestra, along with Mercedes Lysaker (M.Ed. ’19), until receiving her doctorate in May, certainly didn’t shy from introducing her young charges to the classical canon.
“It was far more difficult than what they were playing,” says Weatherly, who was an Enid W. & Lester Morse Jr. Scholar (The Morse and Nelson families have supported the music program at TCCS since its inception.) “But they were so passionate about it that they made it work. The piece worked because they loved it.”
Vocal teacher Eric Williamson (M.Ed. ’19), an opera singer and background vocalist similarly mixed up the offerings in his fourth- and seventh-grade classrooms, getting students to collaborate on dance, hip-hop and trap compositions.
Music under Williamson’s guidance also crossed into other areas of learning – a student-composed rap on fast food to emphasize the importance of healthy eating being a case in point.
“It’s music they like, delivered in a meaningful way,” says Williamson.
Both Weatherly and Williamson are quick to note that learning at TCCS has been a two-way street, and that their students have given as much as they’ve gotten.
“They challenged me as much as I challenged them,” says Weatherly. “Because, if you’re not creative they aren’t interested in what you are teaching.” She plans to carry that lesson to her next job – overseeing the music taught in all 111 buildings of the District of Columbia public school system.
The TCCS students challenged me as much as I challenged them. Because, if you’re not creative they aren’t interested in what you are teaching.
—TCCS music teacher Katy Ho Weatherly (Ed.D. '19)
“I’ll be teaching the teachers,” she says. “And that way I can reach even more kids.”
Williamson, who decided to earn a teaching degree because of his work as Conductor and Director of School Outreach for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, says that TCCS helped look beyond his own training.
“I came from a traditional choir background,” he explains. “TCCS provided a space for me to try out culturally responsive teaching methods in a judgement-free zone.”
Yet at the same time, he credits his mentors at TC with getting him to look back on his own musical development.
“Lori Custodero [Associate Professor of Music Education] and Patricia St. John [Adjunct Associate Professor] reframed my philosophy in teaching children as young as two to be artists,” he says. “They reconnected me with early childhood musical experiences and helped me apply those practices to teaching.” (Weatherly and Williamson, both of whom were Community Teachers at TCCS, are among a group of six Teachers College 2019 graduates who taught at the school. The others are: Mercedes Lysaker, Community Teacher; Lucy Green, Zankel Fellow; Zoé Schroeder, Zankel Fellow; and Carrie Seavoy, Work Study, Assistant Violin Teacher and Assistant Digital Music Teacher).
For Teachers College, the impetus for establishing the Teachers College Community School was to demonstrate how higher education faculty and students can work together with local public schools to benefit learners at all levels. “The music program is a great example of how TC integrates its expertise and resources into the school,” says Nancy Streim, TC’s Associate Vice President for School and Community Partnerships.
I came from a traditional choir background. TCCS provided a space for me to try out culturally responsive teaching methods in a judgement-free zone.
—TCCS music teacher Eric Williamson (M.Ed. '19)
And, of course, that work extends beyond the music curriculum.
“They push us hard,” says Emily Lügohart, a seventh-grader who wants to be a physician. “But they also give us many, many opportunities.” To help her reach her goal, TCCS this provided after-school mentoring to prepare Lügohart for the exam that can place her in New York City’s High School for Math, Science & Engineering. But before then, Lügohart will make history along with the rest of TCCS’ class of 2020, which will be the school’s first 8th grade class to receive a diploma bearing the Teachers College Community School imprimatur.
“It is a huge milestone,” says Verdiner. “We will be fully formed from Pre-K to 8th grade.”
And that is something to sing about.