It's been such a great encouragement to watch the support roll in for the Hansen family. You would not believe how busy this summer has been prepping classes, getting our first workbook published, and YES, baking cookies! HERE'S THE GREAT NEWS: Can you believe we actually hit ------
While this fundraiser is coming to a close, I'll be sure to open another as we head into the holiday season. Thanks for all your support, thoughtful notes, and prayers for the Hansens and their kids.
I first met Hannah* seven years ago. Although I had worked with special needs students before, this would be my first foray with Down's syndrome, and I had no idea what to expect. While Hannah and I were the same age (early 20s), she was operating on a 6-8 year old level. The first several months were exhausting, as she rarely responded during lessons, even though her mother assured me that she enjoyed her time in the studio.
I grew up at the piano. Competitive by nature, I knew that the true sign of an accomplished pianist was being placed last on the program. I remember the exact song I played at the recital that put me "over the top" against a much older student. I was elated and, to be honest, annoying and arrogant. I would continue to work hard on my music through college, playing at festivals and competitions, taking nationally-ranked exams, and performing all over the world. And when I started teaching in Orange County, I knew exactly what kind of teacher I wanted to be.
I'm sure you've guessed by now that I was dead wrong.
As a previous teacher had helped Hannah to learn note letters, I focused on next steps like note values and scales. It quickly became evident that this would be an uphill battle: in addition to mental symptoms, Down's syndrome affects the physiology of the fingers, which are tapered and conical and have little to no individual dexterity. This translates to much more effort--every note requires a sort of wind-up and release, with the pressure placed along the side of the knuckle, rather than the fingertips. Musically speaking, it means getting rid of accurate rhythmic subdivisions: there are long notes and short notes, but nothing more complex. I starting writing dashes to indicate held notes. As time has passed, Hannah has become more and more in tune with the rise and fall of melodic lines, so her rhythm improves as she imitates her favorite songs. That's right--rather than working from the basics outward, we've reversed the process so that Hannah can learn from what she's hearing first, not just from what she's seeing.
Luckily, we also have a few cards stacked on our side. Unlike most instruments, the piano is laid out visually, with the musical alphabet ascending from left to right. All the Es look the same, and so do the Gs and the D#s. This means that Hannah can usually find what she's looking for. Although she'll never sightread, she can follow a melody, particularly if it's a song by Whitney Houston or ABBA.
Like every student, Hannah's music is shaped by her personality. She is shy and dislikes extending her arms beyond an octave on either side of Middle C. She prefers flats to sharps, so much of the music I write for her breaks the rules of music theory. And her interests go in waves: at times, we'll go through months of Disney show tunes. Although she'll never play Mozart, she has mastered a C scale with her right hand and has introduced me to every 90s boy band imaginable. And guess what? She practices an hour every morning.
In a few weeks, Hannah and I will attend a recital. She's been to several now and loves to participate, but it always unfolds the same way: her mother will approach me and say, "She's scared. Will you sit with her when she plays?"
Hannah, every week you teach me that loving music is about more than replication, more than theory, more than a neurotic drive to be competitive and precise. Those things can be part of it, true. But I've never met anyone like you, someone who simply enjoys the sound she's made. You have a generous giggle and you play a mean game of Uno. You remind me to shut up and listen.
I'm honored to sit with you.
As many of you know, last year I partnered with the Independent Learning Academy to expand classes. I have found such an amazing home there, and they've asked me to TRIPLE my classes for next year! I will be teaching my classic courses American Lit and Intro to Analysis, as well as Gov/Econ, Applied Music Theory, and my pet project, Bowman is for Baking.
I will also be maintaining my private classes in Mission Viejo: World Literature/History and Advanced Literature/Philosophy. That's right, folks. I'm officially off my rocker.
AND THAT'S. NOT. ALL.
Anyone who has known me for more than ten seconds knows that I've long been dreaming about building my own conservatory as an extension of the classes I teach and manage. Together with the gracious and incredibly talented Minerva Duffell, this dream is finally starting to materialize. We now have theatre space, students with overflowing talent, and a metric ton of sheet music! If you're interested in having your students join us, please contact me soon to reserve a spot! Updates will be posted on the Green Room Project page.
I can't believe this is my first blog post here. This site is four years old! I never thought my side project would grow to recieve over 1,200 hits a week! Thank you all for your support, for the emails and messages, and for continuing to check in with Bowman Academics.
My name is Stephanie Bowman, and I've been teaching high school humanities courses for five years in Southern California. I cannot imagine loving any job more. I get to work with extraordinary students from extraordinary families, preparing them to be critical thinkers, ethical professionals, and responsible citizens.
That said, Bowman Academics has BIG NEWS.
Next summer, I will be teaming up with the incomparable Lauren Hansen to release our first-ever complete curriculum: American Literature, which will feature both Teacher's and Student's manuals, suggested lesson plans for the full school year, and more. Currently, the plan is to release the material as both an e-book and a hardcopy set.
Any requests? Any advice?
Here we go!
pshhhhhhhhh: Sneak Peak of our cover!!!!!!