Jessica Staire ’13, a music education major from Mahomet, Ill., has been around the world, from Haiti to China, to teach and learn from children. “There’s just so much positivity in kids, even if they don’t know it,” Staire says. “If I act excited about something, the kids will be just as excited about it.” Staire spent the summer in China with Dr. Nancy Gaylen, associate professor of education, fulfilling her global studies credit and teaching English as a second language to children. During the winter of 2010, Staire participated in a mission trip to Haiti, where she was met with entirely new experiences. “When I went over there, I didn’t speak a lick of Creole. I couldn’t talk to these kids in the same way I talk to other kids.”
Despite the language barrier, Staire connected with one of her students on a walk to the town’s water source. “We pointed at things and said what they were in English and what they were in Creole,” she says. “By the end of the night, we developed a friendship even though all we said was things like ‘rock, tree, star!’ It just goes to show that even with a language barrier, human beings can go together.” An appreciation of other cultures is an important lesson in Staire’s classroom. She developed an ethnomusicology curriculum about Filipino culture and music for her James Millikin Scholar (JMS) project. “My mom was born in the Philippines. She moved to the U.S. when she was 6 or 7,” she says. “So, I wanted to do something to further myself professionally, but also something that would allow me to learn more about myself and about my own culture.”
The curriculum in the classroom at Decatur’s Dennis Elementary, where Staire interns, had a focus on culture before she arrived, and her JMS project was an easy fit. “I really like working over at Dennis because there’s such diversity in the school,” she says, “which is not something I got to experience when I was in high school.” Staire and other Millikin students explore music education theory through the Kodály* Music Education Student Group. The group’s mission is to give music educators more tools to use in the classroom in order to teach a wider variety of students.
“We look through lesson plans and talk about mixing different educational theories, so we have a diverse way of presenting things to the class,” Staire says. “That way it appeals to many different types of learners.” In addition to her experiences educating in and beyond the classroom, Staire has volunteered at Decatur’s Homework Hangout, was awarded the Scovill Prize last semester and led a Bible study last year with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. “Jessica makes it very clear that she strives for excellence,” says Dr. Travis Stimeling, assistant professor of music, “not only because she holds herself to higher standards, but because she genuinely wishes to use her many talents to the fullest extent.”
by Jackson Lewis