If students couldn’t come to teacher Kanata Soranaka’s classroom, she’d bring the classroom to them.
Now Soranaka and her music cart are a common sight in the halls of Belmont Elementary as she stays connected musically with hundreds of students in 19 divisions.
The cart is a mobile office containing the technology, instruments and accessories she needs during the school day, including a home-made Plexiglas shield that allows students to be near her safely.
The cart is just one of the ways Soranaka, who has worked in the Langley School District since 2005, devised to outwit the coronavirus and keep students learning, and one factor in why the music teacher has been chosen as a Langley Advance Times Hero in Education.
“I’m really honoured that somebody nominated me,” Soranaka said, adding that she’s felt supported by the students, staff and broader community.
After teaching several years at Topham Elementary where she started a taiko drumming club and program and then the Yorkson Creek Middle School, she moved to Belmont after longtime beloved musical theatre teacher Jamie Thomas retired.
“When the pandemic hit and schools were closed down, Kanata began brainstorming ideas for connecting with her hundreds of students to keep them engaged and learning music,” said teacher Kelly Evans, who nominated her.
Soranaka, who is one of the members of Vancouver-based Sancho Taiko drumming group in her off hours, worked closely with teachers, adding materials, websites and activities to their individual virtual classrooms on many different platforms. She also developed a website entitled the ‘virtual music room’ where students and their families could visit to access music-related activities, recommendations for exciting opportunities to develop their music appreciation, sample many different styles of music and learn about innovative ways musicians and artists were reaching out to share their talents.
“She invited the children to rewrite and perform the school song with ‘COVID’ lyrics, to create music with instruments built from LEGO, and to try composing their own music,” Evans added.
Soranaka also contacted families to get permission to post students’ work and created a platform to share everyone’s creations so the children could feel connected to their school and with each other. But traditional school events such as spring concerts, Remembrance Day services, and Christmas concerts are not possible.
“I think there was a sense of loss” in terms of community celebrations and a sense of togetherness, she said.
So as the school year started in autumn, it became a priority to bring people together.
“I’m just trying to do the best I can to give a little bit of positivity in kids’ lives right now,” Soranaka said. “I think a lot of things are still challenging for many people and one way to try and support our school community is what we do in music.”
Not every student who has music in school ends up being the next Beethoven or the next Shawn Mendes but that’s not the point of music education. Some students may go into the arts but most people find they are consumers of music, not the ones who produce it. Still, music education has been found to also help students with other core academics, as well as teamwork, socialization and much more.
Principal Tim Bonnar, who teaches Grade 6 and 7 band, said Soranaka’s work with elementary school age children lays an important foundation so they appreciate people with musical talent such as Kanata Soranaka.
“Every kid has it [music] as a big part of their life without really thinking about it,” he explained.
Music also provides social context. Soranaka was instrumental in this year’s Remembrance Day ceremonies, which had to be adapted due to the pandemic.
“Our Remembrance Day assembly this year required much more foresight, preparation and technological skill, but she managed to bring our school together (despite not being able to come together physically) in a meaningful way.”
Bonnar said he’s grateful for the work of educators and school staff, such as Soranaka, because they didn’t resign themselves to helplessness when the pandemic hit. They’ve worked hard to find ways to continue to make a difference in the lives of students. And in the case of education hero Kanata Soranaka, that is music to his ears.
“At times like this, I think we still need to experience joy,” Bonnar said.
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