Making a Difference: Amy Bolar
School House Rock
On a bright spring day in Amy Bolar’s music class at Flemingsburg Elementary in northeastern Kentucky, students huddled together, thinking of new ways to play their instruments—then planned and performed their own “symphony.”
Later, another class sang the traditional play-song “Draw Me a Bucket of Water,” laughing as they tried to hop on one foot while their hands were joined in a tight circle as dictated by the song.
This lively classroom is presided over by a teacher who’s always learning, always seeking new ways to connect with her students. And one of the ways she does that is by utilizing KET’s unique classroom resource, the Arts Toolkits.
“The material in the Arts Toolkits, especially the DVDs, contains images and video clips that are really powerful, authentic, and contain relevant material—and fit perfectly into a 45-minute lesson plan,” said Bolar, a Fleming County native who built the school’s music program from the ground up when she arrived back home to teach there in 1995.
“The material didn’t overtake my own lesson,” she added, “it enhanced it and enriched it.”
These versatile multimedia kits (Arts Toolkits) developed by KET can give any classroom teacher support in teaching the visual arts, drama, dance, or music. They also can provide a supplement to arts teachers’ curricula.
“My approach to music education is, that if it doesn’t connect, I’m not going to use it in my classroom,” continued Bolar, an enthusiastic communicator who initially intended to pursue a writing career but found her voice in music education.
“I go for lessons that connect to American history, to literature. I rarely teach a music lesson just for the sole purpose of enjoying a song. It needs to tie in.”
At first intimidated by the comprehensive media the toolkits offered, Bolar says with a laugh that she had to bring them home and “let them live” on her coffee table a while before deciding to plunge in. Now, she’s so enamored that she’s written how-to articles based on her own experience for other educators—and developed an extensive cross-referenced index for dance and music.
“These are chunks of information that give lesson plans the edge. You can talk about aerophones and chordophones, but KET has footage of a UK musicologist actually demonstrating these instruments,” she said.
“And he’s not just talking about an mbira,” she continued, referring to the West African instrument, “he has one in his hand and he’s showing how to play it and what it sounds like. That’s just not an experience I can give to my students on my own. That’s when the toolkits begin to lend themselves naturally to my lesson plans.”
Bolar, who has a love for traditional American folk songs and strives at every opportunity to preserve them through this generation of schoolchildren, also turns to the Dance Toolkit for help combining music with culture, such as Chinese dance.
“I teach Asian culture to sixth grade, and there’s a sword dance and fan dance in the toolkit,” she said. “Both are very different and both represent Asian culture beautifully, so that’s a topic for them to contrast and discuss in class.
“Another beautiful thing is that the Dance Toolkit coincides so naturally with the Music Toolkit and you can use them interchangeably,” she adds. “I’m using the Dance Toolkit in many of my lessons as well.”
As a music teacher, Bolar has found a way to seamlessly integrate the best the toolkits have to offer, but is ready to promote its effectiveness for any teacher in Kentucky.
“For me, I’m educated in music, so they accentuate my lesson plan. But for someone who is trying to teach music, but is not a music teacher—for the schools that don’t have a music teacher—this could BE the curriculum. This could teach the material and be easy enough for a teacher not educated in music to have a go at it and have to plan very little.”