School program earns recognition for innovativeness
Mariner Middle School has received an award from the Florida Music Educators Association for a unique educational program that cannot be found anyplace else in the state.
The middle school earned the Innovative Project Award for using lessons that combine music with different subjects as a cross-curricular project.
Since 2005 the school has been commissioning a professional composer in its Reading Comes Alive with the Sound of Music program to create music for an academic lesson.
In the last school year, band director Gaetano Ferlazzo commissioned Jason Nitsch to create a descriptive piece of music that serves as a soundtrack for “The True Confession of Charlotte Doyle” by Avi, a Newbery Prize-winning novel from 1990 about a young girl who boards a ship from England to Rhode Island.
The book continues to be popular in schools across the country and has been adapted into a film starring Morgan Freeman and Pierce Brosnan.
Language arts teachers Darcy Jackson and Pamela Harmon worked with the students to understand the book, and the band was later asked to perform the composition in May.
“What we did to incorporate that is to have a composer write for the band a piece of music based on that book with the idea of the music mirroring the story,” said Ferlazzo.
Most pieces for the middle school-aged group are between three and four minutes, but Nitsch created an eight-minute work, titled “The Improbable Journey.”
Ferlazzo said he expanded the running time because he did not want to leave anything out.
“The culminating activity was for us to play the work for the eighth-graders,” he said. “They were so enthralled by it, one girl came up to me and said she heard the book in her head.”
Ferlazzo descried the school’s activity as “the most educational activity he’s ever done in 27 years of teaching.”
Similar compositions were created for other subjects, such as social studies, and next year Ferlazzo hopes to tie the music into a science or math lesson.
The program is slated to end after four years.
Ferlazzo said the school never expected to win when it handed in its submission to FMEA. He said he is “humbled” by the recognition from the state.
“If it wasn’t for the type of teachers and administrators we had in the school, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” Ferlazzo said. “We have that type of faculty, but at other schools it may not get done.”