The city of Fresno contains more than half of a million residents, so it’s easy to forget about towns with small populations.
Traver, a small town north of Visalia has a population of fewer than 1,000 people. At a small school known as Traver Joint Elementary School, Julie Bernsen, a music teacher, helps the children learn rhythm and instrumental music.
Bernsen came to Fresno State on Friday hoping to recruit students to travel to Traver and help her students become more proficient at their musical talents.
Since joining the staff at the elementary school, Bernsen has seen the students and their attitudes improve as they became more involved in music.
“When our children sing, they just light up like light bulbs,” she said.
Bernsen said that she teaches music using a more tactile approach as well as using movement in many of her exercises. She said that children learn music a lot more quickly if they are able to move along with it. It can also teach them many other useful life skills.
“I use a lot of movement because music is the answer to everything,” she said. “It’s the answer to self-control. It’s the answer to discipline, to focus. It’s the answer to discipline and to listening. It’s key to camaraderie, to working in a group. The children think they are just doing the maypole, but they are learning courtesy and cooperation and waiting their turn.”
The school, which was once known as just being a school in the middle of nowhere, is now on the map, winning the national SupportMusic Merit Award. The award is part of the “Best Communities for Music Education Program.”
More than 2,000 schools applied for the award and only 66 made the cut – including Traver’s elementary school.
During the Kingsburg High School football halftime show, local middle school bands are invited to play for the crowd. Traver Elementary sent more representatives than any other school.
Bernsen was the recipient of the 2009 Kingsburg Educator of the Year award. Before teaching, she was a professional singer.
The event she held on Friday was to teach students how educating young children in music might be if they were to go down that career path. She went through all of the exercises with the audience, showing them what works with children and what doesn’t. These practices ranged from patty cake with a partner to weaving rainbow-colored streamers around a maypole.
The Tao Beta Sigma sorority put on the event. Emily Henderson, a member of the Fresno State Marching Band and the University Band, helped organize the event.
“It was a lot of fun,” she said. “I definitely didn’t know the different types of ways to teach children. It has to be slower and to understand that their brains are moving a million miles a minute.”
The mothers of many Traver band members work together to make tamales to sell to help fund the band by buying new instruments, reeds and clothing for the children to wear to special events.
Now that the program has been nationally recognized, Bernsen said that the school is being noticed.
“People who have sort of blown me off before,” she said. “Now, not only are they returning my phone calls, but they are inviting me to speak at service clubs and are more amenable to working with us.”