She follows music, and heart

Teacher: Retired music instructor LaFragia Jackson heard the call and returned to teach at Elkridge school.

January 03, 2001|By Laura Dreibelbis | Laura Dreibelbis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Deep Run Elementary School Principal Fran Donaldson was looking for a long-term substitute music teacher for the impending school year in summer 1999. LaFragia Jackson, who retired from the Elkridge school in 1996, stopped by on a whim to say hello while on her way to another employment possibility.

Donaldson asked the 30-year veteran music teacher if she would be interested in working part time, and Jackson agreed. After resolving sick leave and insurance details, Jackson returned for 2 1/2 days a week. The temporary position has become permanent, and Jackson, 60, is in her second year teaching music at Deep Run.

"It's hard to drop everything at one time," said the mother of two and grandmother two, referring to retirement.

Even though she had given up her full-time job, Jackson never completely retired. She taught piano lessons, accompanied her church choir and was frequently called on to accompany musical groups as a pianist.

She planned to stop piano lessons at age 60 and ease off on her activities. Her husband, Sydney, had retired in 1982 and was waiting for her to join him. Instead, her 60th year is busier than ever. She continues to teach piano in addition to working at Deep Run, and she says her motivation is professional and personal.

A deep sense of commitment and duty to continuing music education in schools fuels her desire to maintain the curriculum she helped to build during her career. Jackson knew there was a shortage of experienced music teachers, and she felt her knowledge of the school system and community could assist this critical need.

"We touch their minds" with music. "We're the ones to nurture these children's minds ... in a learning situation," said Jackson, who added that music develops critical thinking, self-discipline, expression, creativity and positive attitudes.

A voice and piano major at Morgan State University, Jackson wanted a performing career but decided it was too rigorous and uncertain. She concluded that teaching was more rewarding and stable and received her certification in music education.

As an educator, Jackson wants to expose her pupils to various styles of music and instruments, hoping that their future selections will be appropriate. "A lot of their music will be based on what they learn here," Jackson said.

A lesson last month at Deep Run covered the basics of rhythm beginning with a roll-call exercise in keeping a beat. Pupils said their names one by one, in four-beat phrases while clapping a rhythm - pat, pat, clap, clap - two claps with the hands, two on the knees. Soon the group caught on and came together on the same beat.

A rhythm lesson on the chalkboard followed, and then pupils pulled out melody bells, an instrument resembling a xylophone. There were two lines of keys, one white, the other black. The pupils struck the keys with a mallet, practicing scales and finding different notes. The final part of the lesson consisted of playing the bells to a tape of music. The class gradually caught on to the rhythm, even if the notes weren't quite right.

The children learned that putting rhythm with notes on the bells creates a melody. Jackson said that elementary school gives pupils the structure and confidence they will need in a larger school.

Once a teacher always a teacher, said Jackson, who finds she has more patience and maturity the second time around. "It's more like returning as a grandmother," she said.

And her love of teaching and nurturing her pupils has deepened her sense of commitment.

"I think it's more for the love of education and seeing this generation shape and mold culturally into society - so they will be able to accept not only the aesthetic views of music, but also the cultural sides of all music," she said.

When she told her son she was returning to teaching, he advised against it - saying she needed the break. But her husband was supportive, telling her that if she enjoyed it, she should return. He might have had an ulterior motive because the honey-do list is now not as long.

Jackson plans to remain at the school until her contract expires in 2002, and then she'll see.

"I hope I can talk her into staying longer," Donaldson, the principal, said.

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