Sandy Elementary teacher named outstanding music educator
Sandy Elementary music teacher Debbie Beninati teaches music to third-graders by riding pool-noodle ponies to Robert Schumann’s “The Wild Horseman.” (Debbie Beninati/Sandy Elementary)
Sandy Elementary school children aren’t just playing with scarves, beanbags, pool noodles and parachutes. It’s actually part of their weekly music class.
“I teach the students how to respond through movement,” music teacher Debbie Beninati said. “They learn how to read music, determine meter, and improvise, create and experiment. We have such a blast and they discover learning music is fun.”
Being creative and passionate about teaching music is one of the reasons Beninati was selected as the Utah Music Educators Association (UMEA) Outstanding Elementary Music Teacher.
“She has energy, enthusiasm and passion for her craft,” Canyons School District Arts Coordinator Sharee Jorgensen said. “She collaborates with others, looks for new ideas and shares those with others; she makes every kid feel special. She’s just a rock star.”
Jorgensen, who serves on the UMEA board, said the plaque is given to an elementary teacher or elementary music specialist whose contributions expand and enrich the elementary music experience.
For example, Jorgensen said when entering into the music classroom, Beninati’s students don’t always realize they’re learning.
“She has fun and engaging ways to teach so everyone loves to go to music. She’s a great, great teacher,” she said.
Beninati earned her elementary music education degree from the University of Colorado.
“I had a professor, Gretchen Beall, who asked who we are. Are we going to teach the one outstanding performer on stage or are we going to teacher the hundreds in the audience? I teach to all those who love music. I teach to the hundreds who support the arts and know how important art is to all those it touches,” she said
Beninati began her career in 2009 with Canyons School District at Lone Peak Elementary School where she introduced orchestra to elementary students. In 2013, she received the Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education as the outstanding volunteer.
She came to Sandy Elementary in 2015 as part of the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program. The program is a teaching partnership between highly qualified arts specialists and classroom teachers in more than 100 Utah elementary schools. Working with the classroom teachers, Beninati gives students arts instruction that ties into the state’s fine-arts core curriculum.
“I integrate music into their classroom curriculum. Sixth-graders are going to celebrate Earth Day in April, so we’re learning how to layer rhythms and playing on recycled material such as plastic bottles, Solo cups, paper plates. It reinforces them learning about recycling, reducing and re-using. When they study U.S. history, we’ve incorporated Civil War songs that when they look into the words and meanings, students learn the songs were used as escape maps. There are some serious concepts they learn about while having fun at the same time,” Beninati said.
Beninati, who would like to start a choir at the school next year, said she has seen improvement in her students.
“Learning how to keep a steady beat helps with their reading fluency; their math and music are closely related to music. The students are becoming better thinkers, problem-solvers and are more creative. There are a lot of smiles here. The kids are happy to be in class and wanting to learn more each day,” she said.
Jorgensen said she also ties into their vocabulary social studies and other subjects to give relevance into what students are learning.
“She doesn’t just teach her students. She’s given violin workshops for middle school students and has helped write the curriculum for music classes with Brain Boosters (enhancement program). She has given outstanding service in the field to our membership and to our community,” she said.