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Drumming in music class at Pope School

Pictured is Lila Grace Doubleday, one of many students learning rhythm techniques using a Lowe’s bucket for drumming.

By Carrie Stambaugh

School teachers across the country have had to get creative in the age of Covid-19.

Even for those lucky enough to be in the classroom with students, the pandemic has created challenges to their normal teaching routines and styles.

Pope Elementary music teacher and Junior High choir director Robbie Cook has been teaching music for 20 years in the South Panola School District, but this year has been one of the most challenging.

Recently named SPSD Teacher of the Year for the Pope campus, Cook has been forced to change many of her longtime teaching methods to adhere to social distancing and mask-wearing requirements.

Her 500-plus students in grades K-8 have adapted well to COVID-19 protocols but the changes have forced her to revamp many of her tried-and-true lesson plans and activities.

“We can’t really sing in the classroom,” said Cook noting in normal years the students put together a choral showcase. “This is the year with no music programs,” she said, “We’ve had to be innovating and think of other ways to teach music. We’ve focused on hands-on instruction.”

The requirements that anything students touch be sanitized immediately before another student can use it disrupted the ability of students to play the traditional variety of instruments including keyboards she usually has in her classroom.

So, Cook, who has an advanced degree in educational leadership, had to find a new way to ensure her students didn’t miss out on the fun of making music together or the skills it helps to develop.

“We started the year out doing a lot of body percussion, using their bodies as instruments,” she said explaining students clapped and stomped to create rhythms.

Then she came across the idea of bucket drumming, which is done on 5-gallon plastic buckets.

She approached the Batesville Lowe’s to see if they would consider giving the school a discount on the purchase of 25 buckets. Better yet, the mega retailer donated buckets to the elementary school.

“I was so excited when they said they would donate them,” she said, “That enables the students to have their own instruments, because I had enough money to order their drum sticks,” she said.

Every student at Pope spends one-hour in music class a week. The bucket drumming program allows each of them to have their own drum for the hour-long session.

Bucket drumming was taking off across the county even before Covid-19, but it has only gained in popularity, said Cook, because it is friendly to the new protocols.

“This allows me to be able to teach them rhythms and they can still cover their performance objectives,” she said.

Lessons vary by age group, where the kindergarten classes are focused on creating steady beats, which helps them identify note lengths. Sixth grade students have learned to create their own rhythms and have learned to echo rhythms from their teacher or peers.

One of the students’ favorite activities so far is to drum along with popular songs. Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” is a classroom crowd favorite, said Cook. “It has a great beat. We did that last week and they absolutely loved it.”

Cook is hopeful the introduction to drumming will inspire some of the older elementary school students to consider participating in high school band. “That is really my goal,” said Cook, who herself is a South Panola High School graduate and band alumna.

She attended Ole Miss for college, where her studies continued to emphasize her musical abilities.

The inclement weather forced classes onto Zoom last week, but again Cook got creative. She showed them how to strike a beat on household items including coffee cans and cookware, or just how to tap a pencil along.

“Music is an outlet that every child can use. I am one of those teachers where I include all curriculums within it. It’s a way for them to learn social skills, it helps in every area of their development,” she said.

Cook hopes the bucket drumming will help her students to “continue to grow musically and socially,” while helping them to “stay on task, be more goal oriented, and develop commitment,” skills in other areas of their life.

“I believe music is an important way of creating a well-rounded education,” said Cook. “I think music is an area where some children may excel in where they struggle in reading and math. It helps build their confidence.”