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For 37-year teacher, music education requires nimbleness

May 24, 2012

In Patricia Trump’s elementary music class, don’t expect to learn the words to “Jack be Nimble” without absorbing a few other details about that popular nursery rhyme.

For example: the origins and history of the rhyme; the name of the author and the culture in which he lived; the meaning of the word “nimble;” and why, exactly, someone would jump over a candlestick.

It’s part of a passion for comprehensive education—a teaching model that combines musical training with areas of the core elementary curriculum, including reading, science, social studies, and mathematics. Trump, FA’74, GR’87, has employed that model, with increasing mastery, at Monroe Elementary School in Des Moines for 37 years.

“In order to truly understand music, students need the technical knowledge and skills required to perform, but also the emotional and cultural context that underlies the music,” Trump says. “Helping students make the connections between music and other knowledge areas benefits them in many ways, not just in music class.”

In addition to teaching hundreds of children, Trump has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to developing the next generation of teachers. She’s hosted more than 30 student teachers, holds master classes on Drake’s campus and leads sessions on comprehensive musicianship for many organizations, including the Drake Summer Music Symposium.

She also brings Drake’s elementary teaching methods course into her classroom for four sessions every semester, allowing Drake students to observe and participate in an actual classroom setting. The class final involves 40 minutes of solo teaching with Trump’s students.

“She’s one of the most exemplary music teachers in the state,” says Thomas Sletto, assistant professor of music at Drake. “She’s a role model for beginning educators, and she has given so much back to Drake.”

The Drake University School of Education honored Trump at this year’s Believers and Achievers banquet for her many decades of service to the Des Moines community and to Drake University. She’s also a nominee for the 2013 Iowa Teacher of the Year award, the Iowa Department of Education’s highest honor for educators.

Trump encourages young music teachers to see more than words and notes on sheet music. In her classroom, downbeats and upbeats are more than beats in measures of music—they’re also compound words—and African drums are elements of a culture that teachers can share.

These connections between music and language are particularly meaningful at Monroe, where poverty levels are relatively high and 216 of 507 students are non-native English speakers. A skilled music teacher like Trump uses songs to show students the world.

“I have kids who, if you ask them, don’t know what you would find at a zoo, circus, or bakery because they haven’t experienced those places,” Trump says. “So I emphasize the visual. I show them what these words mean. It not only helps the reading teacher down the hall, it helps students connect with the music.”

The enthusiastic teacher says she owes her life’s passion to a Drake education—and the encouragement of her mother, to whom “teachers walked on water.” She enrolled at Drake to pursue musical performance in 1971.

“It wasn’t until I became a student teacher at Drake that I fell in love with teaching at the elementary level,” Trump says. “I became a teacher and, after 10 years, returned to earn my Master of Music Education. I’ve received a wonderful education from Drake.”

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Also honored at this year’s Drake University School of Education Believers and Achievers award ceremony were Kelly Buckland, GR’88, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living; Galen Howsare, GR’95, chief financial officer for the Iowa Association of School Boards; and Tim Schott, GR’92, ’99, ’00, executive director of secondary schools in the Des Moines Public School District.