Deep Learning Through Music

ABOVE: Natalie Andrews (left) and the choir members at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Elementary School in Kanata.

It’s not every day you meet a music/math polymath, but some lucky kids at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Elementary School in Kanata get to meet one every school day. Natalie Andrews is a teacher who is as gifted with equations as she is with the oboe. After exploring a couple of earlier career paths, Natalie eventually followed in her family’s footsteps into the joy of the classroom. Mum Diane is a retired supply teacher and sister Norina teaches high school, so it felt like family fate was moving the spirit. “I do believe with my faith that things happen for a reason,” Natalie shares. “I love what I do and that I’m meant to teach. I want my students to know that God does have a plan for all of us.”

Like most musicians, Natalie began her instrumental studies at an early age. After graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Natalie moved back to Ottawa and began teaching privately and free-lancing around the Ottawa area. Natalie applied her devotion and energy to developing a new extracurricular music program at her first permanent teaching position at St. Elizabeth School. Over her 11-year tenure, she directed school choirs, beginner and advanced ukulele and recorder clubs, and a bucket drumming club.

Natalie is in the early stages of developing a music program at St. Martin de Porres, where she is now in her second year. She’s already established a choir “that my principal is very proud and supportive of,” she beams. The choir performs at Masses, liturgies and a variety of small concerts, including a recent and very exciting first-time appearance on Rogers TV. Her hard work was recognized by the Sharon Hiscott Creative Arts Award in 2017 which is given to an elementary school teacher of the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) for significant contributions to the creative arts.

Natalie received a $10,000 grant from MusiCounts Band Aid in 2017, a national charity that donates new instruments to school programs across Canada. Her success prompted an invitation, along with three other educators, from Kristen Charles, the OCSB’s K-6 Arts Consultant to participate as mentors and facilitators in an inspiring venture in music and education called the Deep Learning Through Music Network. Deep Learning is an educational framework that supports “authentic learning experiences through voice, inclusion and agency for all students,” says the OCSB.

Deep Learning Through Music assembles an OCSB-wide network of junior teachers (grades 4 to 6) who are not primarily music instructors but whose musical knowledge can be supported to help enhance music education. As Kristen Charles explains, “A music facilitator will personalize the learning based on yours and your students needs. As part of this network, your school will be receiving two class sets of instruments in your school colours (bucket drums and ukuleles) as well as a global rhythm kit.” Natalie is thrilled by the initiative. “The Board really committed funds to seriously support the arts,” she says. “We’ll have 67 schools involved by the end of this school year!”

Musicians hear it all the time, something or other about being good at math. Perhaps it’s because music and math are the only two disciplines that have invented a written language to communicate and formulate abstract concepts. Natalie the musician has now additionally become a Math specialist in the primary/junior division by taking Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) courses over the last few years. “I really do believe that music is a foundation for learning so many things. It teaches perseverance and practice,” says Natalie. “Think about how many brain centres music activates, and how it supports the learning of math and languages.”

Natalie’s goal is to build a slate of music clubs at St. Martin de Porres and get kids in front of audiences. “It’s the performer in me. I’d much rather be in front of a crowd than in one.” The school and the community will be richer for it.

Natalie Andrews is an active member of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.