"The students really like ukulele - it’s developmentally great for them, because they’re fingers are getting bigger and stronger."
Sherrard Elementary fourth-grade students are learning Ukulele with music teacher Emma Tully. Next quarter - she’ll work with Winola Elementary fourth-graders. Tully and art teacher Tony Vermeer trade locations - serving elementary kids in Sherrard School District. Normally, the two travel back and forth between the schools to teach throughout the week - but due to the pandemic, the two focus a full quarter on one building at a time.
Madison, a Sherrard fourth grader, said she enjoys learning the instrument - her favorite part - "The different sounds of each string."
"It’s been a challenge, adapting to not being able to share instruments… because of how the schedule worked out - I’m able to have 50 at one school and each student is able to have their own."
Tully said remote students can still participate. They’re lent one of the school’s insturments - Tully then sends them teaching videos she creates, demonstrating how to hold the instrument, how to play the chords, and how to sing the song they’re working on.
Tully said she wanted to provide a harmonic alternative to the recorders they learn in music class in 3rd grade, and then again at the intermediate level.
"It allows them to start learning about harmony and accompanying themselves," she said.
At first, it’s difficult for students, "It’s painful, at first, building up those calluses."
When teaching the kids, she pronounces Ukulele the Hawaiian way, most are used to hearing it pronounced ‘yoo-kuh-ley-lee’, she is teaching students to say it authentically, per the Hawaiian pronunciation, ‘oo-koo-leyley’.
"When I first started teaching here, I noticed they didn’t have a string program," said Tully, who began teaching with Sherrard four years ago.
Before coming to Sherrard, she taught students ukulele during her time as a student teacher, "I really enjoyed that experience, and the students did as well."
Tully was able to purchase instruments through a Sherrard Academic Grant and began teaching the instrument in January 2018.
Tully found it difficult to transport the stringed instruments back and forth throughout the week between Sherrard Grade and Winola Elementary. Using a website called ‘Donors Choose’ - she put the need out, requesting 30 more Ukulele instruments.
"Our community pulled together." She said the funds were raised within three months, and the program now has 50 total.
She said the ukuleles are extra special for Sherrard Grade fourth graders, "It’s their last thing before elementary school is over," said Tully.