By SUZANNE KOZIATEK
It’s the time of the year for homemade halos and DIY mangers, when the school gym blossoms into Bethlehem. The Christmas play, complete with carols sung in young voices, is a mainstay of Catholic school life.
In Red Bud, St. John the Baptist Catholic School is putting the finishing touches on its own Christmas pageant. Like many schools, both public and private, St. John has faced budgetary pressures that made it hard to keep a music program going. But this year, students continue to be energized and inspired by music and art, thanks in large part to a grant they received from the Catholic Service and Ministry Appeal’s Fund for Ministry.
Principal Kris Hill says she and her staff explored all available avenues to keep the music program in the curriculum.
“We’re totally committed to having the arts in the building,” Hill says.
Both the art and music programs share a single teacher, Brooke Cowell. The grant from the appeal goes to pay for weekly music classes for children in kindergarten through fourth grade, a group of nearly 40 kids. The money also pays for classroom materials and music supplies.
Cowell says it’s a great opportunity for her – “Music is something I’m passionate about.” And with the Christmas play scheduled this week, she’s had lots of extra rehearsal time to spend with her kids.
Each year, the musical has a different theme – this year’s production, “Christmas Play by Play,” is about baseball – but the show always ends up centering on the Nativity.
“We talk about the Savior’s birth, we sing ‘Away in a Manger,’” Cowell says. “It’s very uplifting.”
She’s in her second year of teaching the music class. Since the art class meets on the same day, she gets to see multiple sides of her students, she says.
“It’s just such a blessing to come inthe morning (for art class) and experience their creative side, and then later in the day, help them learn about the nuts and bolts of music.”
In the class, students learn about percussion, gain an awareness of different instruments and learn about other building blocks of music theory.
For Cowell, music isn’t just about keeping a beat. The benefits are multiple and varied.
“It’s soulful, but also very much a cognitive program,” she says. “One of the biggest advantages is the joy and energy they get to release and share.
“They’re getting exposure to music and making a joyful noise unto the Lord,” Cowell says, calling the grant from the appeal “a beautiful investment that I’m so grateful for.”
Two fourth-grade students, 10-year-old Maria Murry and 9-year-old Helen Hess, also express gratitude for their music class.
“Our music teacher is very joyful,” Murry says. “It’s fun to be singing and acting out plays.”
She says her favorite song from this year’s Christmas production is called “When We’re Feeling Low.”
Hess’ favorite song from the Christmas play is “When We’re Out in the Field.” In addition to the music class, she participates in the youth choir at church. “I think I’ll always be singing,” she says.
Hess also credits her music class with helping get her energized, which is only fitting, because this year’s music program is titled “Plug into the Power of Music,” part of a larger energy theme for St. John School this school year.
In addition to the Christmas show, the school also has a spring arts night that features a musical and review. For that show, older kids take part, led by their homeroom teachers.
Hill says that in times of tight budgets, it can be difficult keeping a music program going. She says the community is lucky in that the local high school offers an instrumental band program for kids in fourth through eighth grades, but she’ll continue to look for ways to keep the music playing at St. John School. She notes that the program benefits not just the kids, but their families, the parish and even nearby senior living residents for whom the children sing.
Hill says this isn’t the first time the school has benefited from the Catholic Service and Ministry Appeal. The appeal previously funded an all-school retreat at the motherhouse of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Ruma.
Kids traveled there on a bus and spent the day in activities designed to get them excited about the next school year.
“They’ve been very generous, very kind,” she says of the appeal.