BTS Arts Specialist Highlight – Eric Spreng – Open Classroom Charter School

When asked to describe Open Classroom’s BTS Music Specialist, Eric Spreng, University of Utah’s Professional Development Partner, Debbie Beninati replied, 

“Eric truly embodies the phrase teaching artist. A 2020 MAT-FA graduate from the University of Utah, he brings his expertise into the classroom with many project-based musical experiences for his students.

Additionally, he performs guitar in several bands and is an active member of the Millcreek Arts Council.”

A myriad of drumbeats permeates Eric’s classroom as 4th and 5th-grade students wrap up their percussion lessons. Around the room, groups of 3 to 4 students work together, creating “drum grooves” as they weave bits and pieces of each student’s composed rhythm.

Students prepare to share their creations with the class as they finalize their layered compositions. Group by group, students take turns sharing segments of beats with the whole class using call-and-response techniques. Each student engaged in the lesson, waiting for their signal to move their hands to mimic the newly learned rhythm.

We asked Eric to respond to a few questions about his involvement in the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program and have included his responses to the interview:

“It’s no secret that my school struggled financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our model includes parent involvement in the form of in-classroom co-oping. We also have a tradition of kids being active in the community through internships with local partners, extended field trips, and service projects”.

 “All of that temporarily went away when we shifted to remote learning. When the programs that made our school special were suspended, our enrollment subsequently dropped”.

 

“Music may have been cut from the curriculum without the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Foundation supporting my position. Instead, BTS threw my school a lifeline in the form of arts education support. It has allowed me to thrive and continue working with the student population I’ve served for the last ten years.”

“But beyond that, being a part of the BTS community has opened my eyes to various perspectives and projects. The teachers I’ve met in the BTS program are wonderfully passionate and innovative, and that has been nothing short of inspiring. 

This is my second year as a BTS music teacher, and I learn new approaches, concepts, and methods every time I interact with someone from the BTS community.”

What are some of your favorite components of working within a BTS school?

“I believe that my style of teaching, my school’s mission, and the BTS Arts integration philosophy is a perfect fit. I’ve always looked to teach music in a way that grounds the art form in its societal and historical context”.

“My school, The Open Classroom, aims to teach the whole child, nurturing our students’ academic, social, creative, and emotional needs. The forward-looking and flexible BTS arts integration model serves us so well!”

“Everybody is committed to exploring broader connections instead of eliminating the different disciplines. When I go to the homeroom teachers to talk about arts integration, there needs to be more convincing that it needs to happen. They already get it!”

What are some arts-integrated lessons you have planned for this year, and what grade levels are they designed for?

“The start of Autumn always excites me to explore how soundscapes and movement can represent the changing seasons with the kids. Through those, we can explore connections with the natural world.

I have some lesson variations that work well with the 1st and 5th graders. My seventh and eighth graders traditionally perform The Beatles Here Come the Sun on the Winter Solstice, with accompanying studies on that day’s cultural and scientific importance.

I have a fun musical listening and singing lesson planned for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in January that helps foster a deeper understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. I originally planned that one for the 6th graders but adapted it last year for the second graders when I learned that MLK was being studied in their classroom, too!

Eric provides his students with a foundation that allows them the autonomy to navigate the world of music.

His passion for music is contagious and captivates his students’ attention while providing an environment where students feel safe to try new and challenging things.

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