Today we are spotlighting Peggy Alpeter, a band director at Cheyenne Mountain Elementary School. Ms. Alpeter has been passionate about music and teaching for years and had some wonderful insights to share with us, for which we are extremely grateful!
Ms. Alpeter started teaching right out of college and traveled around different elementary schools until finally coming to Colorado and working a long term substitute teaching job which eventually turned into a junior high band position. After that, she taught high school vocal music theory and appreciation, took a break from teaching, and then started at a private school teaching elementary band. Eventually the band director retired, so she has now been working as the band director and has been in the Cheyenne district for twelve years.
When asked what her favorite age to teach was, Ms. Alpeter smiled and said that there are so many good qualities about all different age levels. With high schoolers she gets so much fulfillment from creating music with them, and she absolutely adores the energy and excitement of little kids. She also remarked on how wonderful it was to be able to be the person to teach kids how to even open the case holding their instrument or how to hold it correctly for the first time, and she commented on how it is so fun to see how thrilled they are after creating music all together (even when it might not sound cohesive).
Similar to many other teachers, the pandemic rocked Ms. Alpeter’s world and she was forced to quickly reconfigure everything she knew about teaching elementary band. The district decided to have the fourth graders wait to start learning instruments until the next year so that they could hopefully learn in a more traditional environment, so Ms. Alpeter is currently teaching fifth and sixth graders and reworked her methods. She now can’t meet with everyone in-person at the same time, so she meets with one group one day and the other group the next in a hybrid format.
There have certainly been numerous challenges to creating a valuable in-person experience for the elementary schoolers in terms of band classes, but Ms. Alpeter has worked hard to iron out all the wrinkles. One challenge is the fact that many students have dropped band as a result of COVID in general, so she is working with much smaller groups and as a result is faced with an uneven number of students playing each instrument—for example, there could be five clarinets and one trumpet player, causing the trumpet player to feel self-conscious, which Ms. Alpeter works hard to combat by encouraging each player to play loudly and not worry about making mistakes. The kids have their “band masks” with a little hole and flap that opens up to allow them to blow air into the instrument, and they all sit six feel apart from each other with an extra chair right next to them which they set their ChromeBooks on. When Ms. Alpeter needs to work one on one with a student, she instructs everyone else to put in their earbuds so they can work on rhythm sheets on their laptops and so that the student she is helping doesn’t feel like they are being put on the spot.
As for helpful resources, she frequently uses Kami, an app that makes PDFs editable so that students can annotate sheet music. She also uses Google Classroom where she uploads assignments and everything in case they ever need to go completely remote. Pear Deck is another great resource to quiz students on music theory questions, and the Jamboard/whiteboard feature on Google Meets is helpful for drawing notes as well and allowing students to participate with their own marker of a certain color.
One thing that Ms. Alpeter is grateful for (regarding in-person instruction) is the ability to sense the energy in the room to tell if students are absorbing the material or not; however, virtual instruction also affords its benefits too. For example, when she was completely remote she scheduled the kids as instrument sections so she could meet with kids across cohorts and deal with instrument-specific issues and see their faces on Zoom. She was also able to do breathing exercises with the students on Zoom which was good since that is an essential part of learning an instrument.
If she could give advice to other teachers about teaching remotely, she would encourage them to remember that it isn’t inherently scary—just because you may not have experience with it does not mean that you can’t do it. She talked about how at the beginning she learned to embrace the positive aspects of remote learning—it gives her a connection to kids outside the classroom and allows her to see a little part of her world. She also loves how well her colleagues work together and inspire each other.
We hope you enjoyed hearing a little bit about Ms. Alpeter’s story and we can’t wait to see you for tomorrow’s Coffee Break Chat!