Minneapolis teacher looks to broaden student musical experiences

In Sarah Minette’s music classes at Minneapolis South High School, she doesn’t look for students to just play a piece of music together as an ensemble. She wants to see them create.
Sarah Minette with studentsThat philosophy is a big reason why Minette was recently named one of the five 2018 Music Education Innovator Award winners from the Give A Note Foundation.

The Music Education Innovator Award recognizes creative music programs that attract students not typically enrolled in music education courses, thereby increasing access to music education through diversity in curriculum and approach, according to a press release from the foundation announcing the award recipients.

With the title, Minette was awarded $4,000, which she plans to use to start a sound production class at South.
“I want to get as many students into music-making as possible. By adding this class, we can get more students involved,” she said. “The grant helps. Every little bit of money helps. It brings an awareness to what is possible in education. It doesn’t just have to be band, choir and orchestra.”

The sound production class will begin in the 2019-20 school year and while Minette is still figuring out some of the logistics like classroom space, she already has plenty of projects in mind.

“I want to allow students to create beats and a have a more in-depth look into audio creation and mixing to create music,” Minette said. “I also want to look at how we can engage other areas of the school. What if one of the language arts classes wrote poetry and my students came up with beats to turn it into a song?”

Creating this class is not the only way Minette is bringing music to students in an innovative way. She teaches two levels of guitar and piano and has taught a pop music course that looked at music through a social justice lens.

“We all have musical experiences and backgrounds. How can we harness that?” she said. “Students can go home and create music on their own. This is providing a space in school for it. It’s not just school music. It’s student music.”

Bringing more opportunities for musical experiences to her students is also important to Minette because of her school’s diverse student population.

“The majority of the students with whom I work are immigrants and refugees who are not native English speakers,” Minette said in her grant application. “Many of them have not played instruments before or have had the opportunity to experience music making in school. [As] newcomers in our country, they attempt to navigate the complexities of a new language, being a teenager, [all while] maintaining a sense of their culture. Through music, we are able to bridge these many gaps. By experimenting with different styles of music, through collaborative and individual opportunities, students begin to see themselves as not only musical, but creative beings.”

Evolving her curriculum and working through ideas with her students is a big piece of how Minette approaches teaching.

“Curriculum is always evolving,” she said. “It’s taking that leap of faith. I learn along with the students. You’re going to make mistakes and it’s OK. The students are OK with it.”
Sarah Minetteā€™s music class at Minneapolis South High School

Two years ago, Minette brought the idea of recording an album to her Intermediate Guitar class. 

“I pitched the idea to the kids. They loved it and we did it. And then we did it again the next year,” she said. 

Minette worked with a local recording studio to help with the recording and mixing of the album, but said both her and the kids were invested and learning throughout the whole process.

The award also means Minette will be a special guest at the Country Music Association Foundation’s Music Teachers of Excellence Awards dinner in Nashville this April and receive an all-expense paid trip to present on her program at the National Association for Music Education National Conference.

To learn more about the Give A Note Foundation and its grant opportunities, go to www.giveanote.org

Applications for the 2019 Music Education Innovator Awards are open until Feb. 11.