Glacier Valley music teacher wins Fulbright grant to travel to Scotland

Before leaving the classroom, Glacier Valley Elementary School music teacher Lorrie Heagy asks her students two questions. What was your goal? Did you reach it?

Well, for Heagy, she has accomplished one of her goals as she recently was one of approximately 35 U.S. citizens to receive the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching grant. Heagy said she did not have any idea she would win but was quite happy when she found out.

“I was just ecstatic,” Heagy said. “I read in the newspaper that the Fulbright scholars at UAS (University of Alaska Southeast) had been announced and I thought maybe I had been rejected. It was a bit of a surprise. I thought it might not happen this year.”

Fulbright flagship international educational exchange program is sponsored by the U.S. government designed to build connections between the U.S. and other countries. The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Heagy will be in the United Kingdom from January 2019-June 2019. The proposal applicants make, Heagy said, has to define something that can only be learned at the specific country applicants want to go to. Heagy, who started Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM), a program that gives kindergartners and first-graders the opportunity to learn the violin, has traveled to Venezuela, Scotland, China and Taiwan as part of El Sistema fellowship. El Sistema is a program that uses music education to help develop youth empowerment originally created in Venezuela by Jose Antonio Abreu in 1975 for children from impoverished backgrounds. Heagy explained that she wants to travel back to Scotland because she would like to see how Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise program— where she learned how to create JAMM — has developed since she was there eight years ago.

“(Big Noise) was a fairly new initiative when I was there. It was about two years old,” Heagy said. “I would love to see what I could learn from it now.”

Heagy also added that she could teach at the program because of her JAMM background. Heagy said she will observe a class for a day and then model a lesson. From there, the other teachers will discuss what works, what did not work and how it engages the brain.

Besides the opportunity to teach, Heagy said she has another reason why she wants to travel back to Scotland and it will involve going out of her comfort zone.

“I am a classically-trained pianist. I learned a very formal approach to reading notes and that you don’t deviate from the page,” Heagy said. “If somebody asks me to play ‘Happy Birthday’ I just freeze because I am have been taught to read from a page instead of trusting my ear. I grew up being creative, but through that process, I lost that openness to learning how to play by ear. I want to make sure my kids here can both read music and play by ear. I want them to be able to play classical music and music they hear on the radio.”

That is where Scotland’s “Musical Futures” program comes in. This program focuses on improvisation and creative-music making through friendship groups, music technology and informal learning. Heagy hopes what she learns from this can be something she can bring back and add to JAMM.

“It is an approach to music from a pop musician’s perspective,” Heagy said. “You look at pop music, rock music and music that is relevant and you bring that into the schools. I am really excited to learn at these musical schools.”

Glacier Valley Principal Lucy Potter said Heagy’s commitment to education continues to improve the music program throughout the Juneau School District.

“Lorrie is a lifelong learner,” Potter said. “She is always reaching out and trying to find more ways to learn. I think the this experience is just another step for her in the learning process. The JAMM program here and throughout the district would not exist without her. She really strongly believes that giving children the opportunity to play an instrument helps build them as a person.”

Geoffrey Wyatt, a third grade teacher at Glacier Valley, said he made sure his sons, Eli and Lucas, went to Glacier Valley specifically because of Heagy’s teaching.

“She works tirelessly bringing music to kids,” Wyatt said. “She is enthusiastic and brings a special spark to learning. We know she will be a great Fulbright representative for Glacier Valley and Juneau.”

Heagy said by the end her experience in the United Kingdom, she wants to be able to bring back a program that not helps students in Juneau, but has a global impact.

“My hope is that I can take both musical and social practices I learn there and put them on a website that can be shared out to a global community so that anyone can access them, not only here in Juneau,” Heagy said.


• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at gphilson@juneauempire.com or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.


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