Harmony in her classroom

Teacher shares her passion for music with elementary students

Amanda Woolley has had music on the mind since she was 7. Today, the 22-year-old award-winning teacher is spreading her passion for rhythm and harmony to students at the Dorman and Lincoln elementary schools.

“Music has always been a huge part of my life,” said Woolley, who grew up in Point Pleasant, N.J. “My parents wanted to provide me with the opportunity to take lessons, so I started with piano and then picked up flute in the elementary school band.”

Woolley went on to participate in various ensembles including marching band, symphony band, concert band, hoop band, flute choir, chamber choir and vocal jazz. She became the drum major of her high school marching band and of the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band, leading rehearsals and performances as field conductor and assisting with leadership activities.

“That was when I realized I loved teaching other people,” she said.

In 2008, Woolley earned her bachelor’s degree in music education at UMass and, following student-teaching experiences at Boland Elementary in Springfield and Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield, accepted a position in Springfield Public Schools.

“When I interviewed, I found my principals – Shannon Collins and Diane Gagnon – to be the most excited about and supportive of developing their music programs, and I was looking for a school culture in which a beginning music program could thrive and grow,” said Woolley. “They have been wonderfully supportive from the moment I first met them all the way to today.”

Launching a new music program at the Dorman and Lincoln schools has been both challenging and rewarding. “In some ways, we’ve had to make up for lost time with the older kids, but my goal is to create lessons that will take them from where they are now and move them forward as fast as possible,” she said. “You have to learn to cater to the different needs, weaknesses and strengths of your students, turning them into musical beings. It’s exciting to see their energy and enthusiasm for music and movement and to be able to light that spark in their eyes.”

That spark has certainly spread like wildfire at both schools. Nearly 120 third-, fourth- and fifthgraders at Lincoln joined the newly formed chorus, while another 90 joined at Dorman. Woolley was impressed by the turnout and stage presence amongst her students during school concerts. “They were like shining stars, not only rising to the occasion, but going above and beyond,” she said.

In January, Woolley was named one of 28 recipients of the 2009 Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award, which acknowledges their high degree of professionalism, subject knowledge, creativity, impact on students and support for colleagues.

“I was extremely flattered and humbled while at the same time extremely grateful for the recognition and encouragement of my colleagues,” said Woolley, who earned the special distinction of Outstanding First Year Teacher. “I know that I still have an incredible amount to learn and that more experience will make me a stronger educator, but I am thankful that my passion for my work and enthusiasm about helping my students to become more musical and knowledgeable was recognized.”

The district typically receives about 120 nominations for the Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards each year. More than 200 teachers have received the award since its inception in 2003. Winners this year receive cash awards totaling $16,800 (each receives $500 for personal use and $100 for classroom supplies), a YMCA membership and other gifts. They will be recognized during a dinner and awards ceremony at the Log Cabin Restaurant in Holyoke on April 28.

Superintendent Dr. Alan J. Ingram said the award recipients represent the best of Springfield Public Schools and pointed out that there are many unsung heroes teaching in the district. “At its very core, public education boils down to a teacher in a classroom and it’s important to take time to recognize those who perform exceptionally well, to keep them and others encouraged and inspired,” Ingram said. “We are grateful to our sponsors who recognize the value of great teachers.”

Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards sponsors include the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, the Davis Foundation, MassMutual Financial Group, the YMCA of Greater Springfield and Southworth Paper Company of Agawam.