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Friday, 11 September 2015 12:37

Whitewater teacher uses Ghana experience to drum up students' interest

Written by  Edwin Scherzer
Christine Hayes, third from left in the center, dances with students at a school in Ghana. The students were demonstrating dances accompanied by drums and songs. Hayes, a Whitewater teacher, spent 22 days in Ghana over the summer learning about drumming and culture. Christine Hayes, third from left in the center, dances with students at a school in Ghana. The students were demonstrating dances accompanied by drums and songs. Hayes, a Whitewater teacher, spent 22 days in Ghana over the summer learning about drumming and culture. Terry Mayer

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Teaching has been called many things -- an art, an inspiration, a life-changing experience.

There are many gifted teachers in our midst, and there are some who are simply spectacular. They go above and beyond, inspiring students and others with whom they work. One such teacher is Christine Hayes.

Hayes lives and teaches in the Whitewater Unified School District. She is a music teacher with a mission.

During her 27-year tenure, she hasn’t just taught music, she has led students on a cultural, musical immersion. Hayes traveled halfway around the globe, to Ghana, Africa, just so she can share a more authentic experience in drumming with her students.

Her resume includes 19 years of elementary music, fifth-grade choir and world drumming at Lincoln Inquiry Charter School (formerly Lincoln Elementary School). Hayes also has taught elementary and middle school band, middle school guitar, keyboards and general music.

Additionally, Hayes serves as choir director at First United Methodist Church in Whitewater. She was part of the Whitewater Arts Alliance from 2008 to 2012 and currently serves on the Young Auditorium Advocacy Advisory Committee for Arts Education.

The reason she went into teaching is straightforward.

“I have a passion for working with children; each one truly is a gift and a joy in my life,” Hayes said. “They make me laugh and more importantly, inspire me to dig deeper and to provide them with the most meaningful educational experience possible,” Hayes said.

Those adults who have worked with Hayes know she inspires them as well. Aimee Swanson, Hayes’ former student teacher turned choir director, said she is inspired to be the educator that Hayes is.

“Christine is an amazing mentor to all around her,” Swanson said. “Her passion for providing quality music education inspires all.”

Swanson and Hayes work as colleagues on the State Music Standards Committee. Hayes is also past president of the Wisconsin Music Educators Association. She was part of the committee that wrote the national core standards for music for pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade general music.

“She has positively impacted music education in Wisconsin and in the nation,” Swanson said.

Journey to Ghana

Hayes’ passion for drumming as a musical art form and a means of musical education helped fuel her desire to travel to Ghana.

She said it didn’t take long to realize she needed to travel to the source.

“My goal was to bring back to the students a deeper level of understanding of the culture of a beautiful people -- their song, dance, stories, living, environment, speech, the children, the food -- all to truly comprehend the drumming that comes from Ghana,” Hayes said.

Traveling to another continent, much less a remote location usually only seen on documentary television, takes planning. Hayes would need financial support, which led to her starting a GoFundMe website. She said she was amazed at the support from her church and community, as well as current and former students, high school friends and current musical affiliations. They literally sent her around the world for the Ghana trip.

“I am blessed and humbled beyond words to have such a phenomenal support network that allowed me to pursue this dream,” Hayes said. “It took a village to send me to a village.”

Simply relating her experience is not enough for Hayes, though. She will pass on the techniques that she learned to her students, to the drum choir she started at her church and to local residents through community education classes that are in the works.

The arts, specifically music education, form the basis for young minds to have other experiences they simply would not otherwise have, Hayes said.

Following a culture through a medium, such a drumming, offers a glimpse into another world, which leads to a cultural experience, which in turn gives children a worldview, she said.

Besides musical education, Hayes said she is offering her students opportunities for growth and awareness.

“A child given the skills and opportunity to create and perform meaningful music will possess the ability to express their inner and true self,” she said.

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