The Ukulele Progam at Lassen View School
By Melissa Mendonca
IT'S A HAPPY THING
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Group Photo by Sunshine Rush, Class photo courtesy of Kim Hickok
AMID THE CHORUS of young voices in the hallways of Lassen View School in Dairyville, there is often a bright and joyous sound of ukulele. A sixth-grader may be strumming a traditional Hawaiian tune, another may be in a different hallway plucking out a favorite pop song. Yet another may be refining an original score. “Ukulele can be heard all around the campus on many different occasions,” says music specialist Kim Hickok. “And it always brings a smile. It’s just so positive. It’s a happy thing.”
The sixth-grade ukulele program at Lassen View has become one of the most popular offerings on campus, and is helping Hickok prove the point that every child is a musician. “Having those ukuleles has just opened up a floodgate at our school,” she says. “If someone could walk into the music room and see the joy and smiles on the faces.”
Hickok, in her 16th year at the school, added music to her schedule of teaching seventh- and eighth-grade language arts and social studies four years ago when it became clear the school might lose its beloved music program. A 38-year veteran music teacher retired and the district struggled to fill the position on a part-time basis. “I’m a lifelong musician and I had the inspiration, with the help of my husband, to think that I could help out in this position,” she says. She began working toward the additional teaching credential needed and started thinking about how to revitalize the program.
“I was looking for something to appeal to the older kids I teach, kids who might not be in band,” she says. “I chose it because I knew it was something everyone could have some success with. Ukulele is extremely popular.” The dedication that has developed around the instrument is proof. “The kids really crave it,” says Hickok. “They come in to practice at lunch. They want to take it home to practice.” More than a few students have received ukuleles for Christmas and birthday presents. One student got his dad hooked on playing.
“It has become a little subculture within our music program,” she adds. A group has formed calling itself the Uke Jammers, and it performs for classrooms and at the annual Dairyville Orchard Festival, with the hope of adding more community performances.
“There are kids that struggle all day long with the academic activities and then they come into the music room and shine,” she says, noting the elevated esteem and connection students are experiencing. Although a sixth-grade offering, many students who started the program at its inception last year are continuing with the instrument. “A more dedicated group has formed that wanted to go above and beyond.”
Undeterred by a school budget that couldn’t develop a robust program, Hickok did what teachers across America do for special projects and even basic school supplies. She set up a project profile on Donorschoose.org, a crowd funding website for classrooms. A $1,500 request for 37 ukuleles was covered in a week.
“I was extremely proactive on social media getting the
word out,” she says. The result was “outrageous community support from current Lassen View families, former families.” Parents with students far younger than sixth grade pitched in to assure their children would one day learn the instrument.
The fun of the ukuleles began before the boxes they were packed in were even opened. “They came right as the school year was winding up,” she says of the April 2018 delivery. “They were in huge boxes and the kids were curious.” That curiosity morphed into excitement the following school year, when each sixth-grade student was assigned their own ukulele.
“The students are highly motivated,” adds Hickok. “It’s just wonderful.” She would love to expand into a guitar program and believes more opportunities like this will bring out the inherent musician in each student. “Every person is able to experience music in their own way. That’s why I stepped up. Music at Lassen View would have gone away. It’s so important to have it for our kids.”
Teacher requests from across the North State can be found on any given day at Donorschoose.org. “It’s a wonderful way for teachers to very easily get the funding from far and wide for all kinds of projects,” says Hickok. The sweet sound of ukulele at Lassen View and the smiles of its students are proof the effort to develop and fund a campaign are surely worth it. •
Melissa Mendonca is a graduate of San Francisco State and Tulane universities. She’s a lover of airports and road trips and believes in mentoring and service to create communities everyone can enjoy. Her favorite words are rebar, wanderlust and change.