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City Teacher Of The Year Is Instrumental To Music Program

June 28, 2007
By NIRAJ CHOKSHI, Courant Staff Writer

When Katharine Peet matches her fourth-grade students with a musical instrument, she asks them to do only three things: sing, clap and hold a pencil.

Peet says singing reveals a student's basic musical abilities. Clapping shows an understanding of rhythm, and holding the pencil shows motor coordination.

It takes so little to pair students with instruments, she believes, because everybody has an "instrument personality.

"You can just attach an instrument to how they are," said Peet, a music teacher at Hartford's Noah Webster MicroSociety Magnet School.

"From those three little simple things ... I can usually tell which instrument is appropriate for them."

More than one-third of Webster's approximately 600 pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students play an instrument; about half of the eighth-grade class still plays, Peet said.

Her ability to get students interested in music - and to maintain that interest - is one of the reasons Peet was named Hartford's teacher of the year.

Webster's principal, Dee Cole, says Peet's experience, dedication and "contagious" passion made her the perfect choice for the award.

"It's very obvious that she loves what she does, and ... that passion and that expertise translate into student performance, student achievement and the student's love of music," Cole said.

"She takes a lot of pride in her students and the performances they produce. We're very proud of her."

When school is in session, Peet's students keep her busy. On a typical day, she arrives at school early and stays late to accommodate more individual lessons and practice time for her students. Because of scheduling conflicts, she had to conduct different groups of students in seven concerts during the week of June 10. At the same time, she and several other teachers were also holding rehearsals, at least one of which lasted two hours, for the school's production of "The Wizard of Oz," which was performed last week .

Peet grew up in New Jersey and came to Connecticut to attend the University of Hartford's Hartt School. She graduated in 1979 as a violin and viola performance major.

After working various jobs, including one in New York, Peet made her way back to Connecticut to work in public relations for the West Hartford School of Music and Dance, which later merged with the Hartford Conservatory. It was there that she got involved with an organization trying to resurrect Hartford's school music program.

Her involvement with that organization led to a teaching certificate in 1990 from Alternate Route, a state-run program aimed at turning mid-career professionals into teachers.

"It was the best thing I ever did," she said.

She became a certified Hartford Public Schools teacher in 1992.

In the mid-90s, a difficult time for music programs around the country, Peet was inspired by a front-page New York Times story about a sample violin lesson that renowned violinist Isaac Stern put on for New York City's public school officials.

She contacted the head of Hartford's Unified Arts Program offering to do the same. Peet gathered every violin she could and conducted a lesson for a group of the district's principals who were meeting downtown.

"You should have seen the smiles on their faces," she said before launching into an explanation of the importance of music education.

"I've seen students who have behavior problems, who are in the office all the time, get up on stage and perform," she said. "And you can see how focused they are. You can see how they know they are the center of attention and they need that spotlight on them. ... This is one thing that's going to make them feel that they have confidence, that they are capable of doing some good things in school."

Emily McBride was one of Peet's earliest students, from 1993 to 1996. McBride graduated last year from Ithaca College in upstate New York with a music education degree and now teaches in Lansing, N.Y. Back in fourth grade, Peet convinced her to play the cello.

"I do remember wanting to play the flute ... [but] she kind of steered me and said, `Why don't you play cello?' " McBride said.

"And I did, and I loved it, and I've been doing it since."

While McBride was home on vacation recently, she observed Peet at work to fulfill a graduation requirement and was astounded by how much she does.

"How she could be spread so thin but still have so much energy to still be able to do everything ... I couldn't imagine having to do all that and still have great results," she said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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