About Building Cultural Bridges
Being inspired by Dr. Jeffrey Kimpton’s words asserting that “for music education to survive, music educators need to tap into community resources to establish a connection between education and the students’ place in the community”, music educators Jami Lupold and Pat Surface, and later, Seth Fewell, collaborated with education directors and leaders from some of Houston’s foremost organizations. Lupold and Surface created the Building Cultural Bridges program (BCB), an extraordinary program linking Pearl Hall Elementary with NASA, Johnson Space Center, the Houston Symphony, consuls general’s offices, the Society for the Performing Arts, the Houston Grand Opera, the Norwegian Seaman’s Church, and Bay Area Photography Club providing opportunities for students to discover that they are an integral part of society at the local, state, national, and International levels. The program has evolved to create cultural inclusion and provide students unique and innovative learning opportunities to develop and use communication skills and technology to explore relevant studies in international music, culture, and literature.
Third and fourth-grade students conduct interviews with the international participants, learn their guests’ favorite folk-songs, various grade levels learn and record the songs using their digital recording studios. “They were so organized. It really struck me—that they were going to do their journalistic and musical best. They were connecting on all levels, and that’s what education is supposed to do. It was fun and startling to see them do it so well,” reflected Jack Bacon following his interview with the Pearl Hall students. As an ISS Systems Integration Engineer, Bacon works with all the different systems on the ISS to make sure the entire space station is operating as expected.
Houston Symphony Education Director Roger Daily has worked with Pearl Hall from the beginning of the program to arrange participation by international musicians. “For kids to be a part of a program like this, where it makes the world not so big and not so different, is incredible,” he commented. “All of these guests have had a folk song and a favorite story from their childhood to share—it’s a universal thing. To have music as something that transcends all is very special.”
BCB has expanded Pearl Hall students’ knowledge of music through the collection of international folk songs; it has also enhanced their educational experience by providing them with a unique understanding of how math, science, technology, and music are integrated in successful people’s lives. Whether engineers, musicians, or astronauts, all of the BCB contributors have shared how important music is in their lives and careers.
Students realize that their world extends around the globe and beyond. They have learned that this connection begins at a personal level by recognizing commonalities they share with those they once viewed only as different. Each presenter has taught them that making connections with people from other cultures will be critical for their future success, and that music can play a significant part in providing those connections.
Because of BCB, Pearl Hall students have hosted world-class musicians at the school, heard the Houston Symphony perform, performed pre-concert music in Jones Hall, performed with the Houston Symphony on-stage in Jones Hall, at Miller Outdoor Theater, and at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in the Woodlands. Students have also performed concerts with astronauts from Max-Q at the International Space Station Educators Conference and the Texas Arts Alliance Center at Clear Lake, toured Johnson Space Center, sung for over 100 international delegates at the World Space Congress, interviewed leading international scientists and musicians, been the featured school on live webcasts in the NASA electronic classroom, NASA’s Digital Learning Network (DLN) and NASA TV, and sent their voices into space to international space explorers on the ISS. “We couldn’t take our students and faculty around the world, so we brought the world to them.” Through innovative music education, we have opened up the world for our students and enabled them to believe in a future without limits.
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Seth Fewell, Jami Lupold, and Pat Surface
Building Cultural Bridges
“It’s delightful to go into what seems like an average building and see such a spark of interest that’s been created by the teachers and is being absorbed by the students. What makes THE biggest difference is that the kids are prepared and interested and my visit [as a BCB guest] is an integrated part of the program/curriculum.”
Col. Chris Hadfield, CSA Astronaut