• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Teacher of the Year: Making music fun for her students

JASE KUNTZ, a first-grader at Huntertown Elementary School, played a drum with his elbow in music class. "...I want them to know that their ideas are important. That they are capable of making the music," says music teacher Shannon Stieha. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Connecticut native Shannon Stieha loved playing French horn when she started classes at the University of Kentucky, but already knew she didn't want to pursue a career in music performance. It made her too nervous to play in front of a large audience. And becoming a high school band director was also out of the question. "You stand up in front of all these kids," she explains, "...and what if you wave your arms and nothing happens?" Taking an elementary music class helped Stieha find her career path. "We got to sing and dance and play, and it was so much fun," she explains. That's when Huntertown Elementary School's Teacher of the Year says she realized "this is what I want to do." Stieha, who started her eighth year as Huntertown's music teacher in August, enjoys a lot about what she does. "I get to do a lot of silly things with them - and they like it. And we get to laugh," she says. For her, there's nothing like being in a classroom filled with young people enthusiastic about making music with drums or dancing with ribbon wands - while always having lots of fun. "They're just so excited about it, and they're not afraid to be creative," explains Stieha. She describes music as accessible to all of her students. "They can be creative, and a lot of times - there's no wrong answer. So it makes them feel safe and they can express themselves" in a variety of ways - with or without words. Stieha doesn't want her students to have memories of "sitting and singing" in music class because "there's so much more to it," she says. During a recent class, Stieha and her first-grade students played drums with their elbows - and other parts of their upper bodies. Later, one student, chosen as their conductor, determined how fast or slow they played by how quickly or slowly he or she moved. "With the little kids," says Stieha, "it's so fun to watch them get to try something for the first time. "With the kindergartners," she continues, "they see all of these (instruments and) ... they're just so excited" to have this opportunity to play. "...I want them to know that their ideas are important. That they are capable of making the music," she adds. Stieha, who lives in Lexington with her husband of three years, Joey, and their two cats, appreciates the positive learning environment at Huntertown Elementary. "The teachers are supportive of each other, and I like that the kids are creative. Part of that comes from the environment that we've created here. The kids feel safe," says Stieha, who earned undergraduate degrees in French horn performance and music education at UK before coming to Huntertown. She later got a master's degree in education at Georgetown College. (This is the fifth in a series of seven feature stories about Woodford County Public Schools' 2016-17 Teachers of the Year.)

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