Revamped music room at Shaler Area Elementary hits the right notes

Shaler Area Elementary School fifth-graders Destiny LaGamba, left, Lydia Nebiolo and Stephanie Stauffer work together on an iPad mini to create a music composition on the GarageBand app.
Shaler Area Elementary School fifth-graders Destiny LaGamba, left, Lydia Nebiolo and Stephanie Stauffer work together on an iPad mini to create a music composition on the GarageBand app.
Photo by Bethany Hofstetter | Shaler Journal
| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 9:03 p.m.

Music education at Shaler Area Elementary School is about more than learning a song or musical notes and the classroom finally is reflecting that.

Shaler Area Elementary School's general music classroom has been transformed into a high-tech multimedia room through a $20,000 STEAM grant.

Shaler Area received the $20,000 grant in 2013 through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's Center for Creativity, made possible through the Claude Worthington Benedum and the Grable Foundations, to engage students in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, or STEAM, subjects and projects. Elementary music teacher Cynthia Dougherty, with district support, removed the choral risers and painted over the gray walls to create a multiuse space that enables students to learn about music through writing, movement and technology.

“I'm trying to redesign how I teach music,” Dougherty said. “(I want) to make kids feel this is a place to be inspired and create.”

“My goal for the room is to allow and encourage kids to explore a subject matter so deeply they find connections to math and science and writing and music. The idea is to take something they're learning that is not music and turn it into music and art.”

Each corner of the room is painted in a different color to denote each space. The yellow corner features an interactive whiteboard for group instruction. The green corner, or movement center, has a wall of full-length mirrors where students can explore music through movement. The turquoise corner is the art and creative-writing center, and the orange corner is the iPad center, which currently houses 10 iPad mini devices for student use.

Dougherty's former office, off of the orange corner of the room, was painted purple and converted into a recording studio.

“I think it looks cool,” said Jacob Bedillion, a fifth-grader, who watched the room's transformation over the past year. “When I walked past (last year), it was pretty boring, but now it's colorful.”

Lydia Nebiolo, a fifth-grader, said she is fascinated by all of the technology in the room and how it is used to learn about music.

“With the computer linked to the Smart Board, she (Dougherty) can demonstrate stuff to us instead of (all the students) huddling around the computer,” Lydia said.

Dougherty plans to partner with local dance companies and musicians to expand the room's possibilities outside of the four walls.

Earlier this year, local musician Mike Why led a workshop for teachers to demonstrate the looping technique that enables a musician to create and overlap repeating sounds to create a composition. He also gave a performance to the students. The recording studio includes permanent and mobile looping station equipment.

Scouts in Boy Scout Troop 329, based out of Memorial Park Church in McCandless, also plan to hold a recycled art-supply collection and donate the gently used art supplies to the music classroom for student use.

“This classroom actually allows the students to utilize their creativity in music but not just connect to music only,” said Kara Eckert, assistant to the superintendent. “It's a wide open space that allows the mobility and creativity to run through the students individually or in groups. It breaks the mold of the traditional music classroom.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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