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New program removes barriers to teaching music to Alberta students learning online

Students of The Centre for Learning at Home are being given a new experience to help them learn about music.

The Centre for Learning at Home is an alternative school that focuses on online learning and homeschool programming that is a part of the Christ the Redeemer Catholic School division.

Catherine Scott, who teaches online music for Grades 4 to 12 at the centre, says that with online learning there is always a barrier to music compared to in-person schooling.

“We were constantly trying to give our students the same opportunities that students normally have,” she says. “There was always this barrier for band and choir and that was always something our students missed whenever they came to an online environment.”

Overcoming the obstacles

To address those challenges, The Centre for Learning at Home started to use a program called JackTrip, a Stanford University and Silicon Valley collaboration that allows musicians of all kinds to rehearse together no matter where they are.

“JackTrip allows the kids and myself to log into a shared server, and gives us each the ability to play and sing live as if we were in a concert hall,” Scott explains.

She says they decided to try the innovative program when the school saw an increase in enrollment after the pandemic started, prompting them to think about how to retain some of the students.

“Our superintendent was looking at our numbers and wondering how could we sustain some of these folks moving forward,” she says.

Filling in the gaps

That’s when the school began surveying parents to get their perspectives on what their children were missing from in-person school programming.

“Band and choir became something that is one thing they miss about brick-and-mortar school versus an online environment,” Scott adds.

One aspect of JackTrip that the music teacher appreciates is how it offered the students an opportunity that wasn’t available to them before.

“We’re all in our homes across Alberta. We’ve never been able to offer a band program before,” Scott says. “This allows me to offer an actual high school and junior high band program.”

Offering new opportunities

JackTrip has given the students a chance to learn instruments, sing, and perform together, as opposed to the previous program, which was focused on musical history and theory.

“We’ve never offered a choral program or a band program because we’ve never had the opportunity for the kids to be able to sing and play and learn together.”

Scott says the students are quickly learning the new technology and adapting to the new programs well.

“The students are enjoying it because the technology is so new, they feel pretty special that they get to take part in it,” she says. “It’s pretty neat that you’re sitting in your own living room, and you’re playing in a band class with people all over Alberta.”

A powerful learning experience

One funny anecdote Scott wants to share is that since the students are scattered across Alberta, including right here in Calgary, they are often experiencing different weather at the same time.

“It’s kind of a surreal feeling when one person’s talking about the sunshine and green grass and the other kids talking about snow on their lawn,” she says.

For Scott, the program has been a powerful learning tool in how it has brought everyone together to learn to play new instruments and to learn how to play or sing in a choir or band.

“The way they’re all able to interact and play together it’s as if we’re sitting in a classroom,” she says. “It’s that feeling of being part of something that they get, that they’ve never had before.”

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