Little Swallows class at McGlone Academy

Swallow Hill’s Marissa Russo teaches a Little Swallows class at McGlone Academy.

In 2016 Swallow Hill Music introduced its Little Swallows early music education program at McGlone Academy in Denver’s Montebello neighborhood. Little Swallows is our general music program that introduces preschool-aged children to the world of music-making.

At McGlone, 94% of the students qualify for free lunch, and 70% of the students are second language learners.

“Access to music sets up kids for success,” Swallow Hill CEO Paul Lhevine says. “Music education builds vocabulary, strengthens social skills, promotes literacy, and enhances creative thinking, among many other benefits.”

At Swallow Hill, we feel strongly that all children deserve access to music education.

“Where resources and financial barriers exist,” Paul continues, “Swallow Hill steps in with the support of corporations and individuals and foundations to give low-income children opportunities to learn and grow through music.”

We recently asked Swallow Hill Instructor Marissa Russo, who teaches the Little Swallows classes at McGlone, about her experiences with the class.

Marissa says her philosophy is “that music is the most eloquent form of communication, and that everyone should have access to communicating this way, no matter their means.” She adds that she is glad that Little Swallows “is gaining the attention of the community that it has so that we can expand our outreach program, and bring music and positivity to people’s lives.”

In 2018 Swallow Hill plans to increase our impact and work with 52 classrooms in under resourced communities, where we’ll reach 832 kids, creating 22,336 musical connections in our community.

If you are interested in supporting our educational outreach programs, please consider attending One Epic Night: A Fundraiser for our Outreach Programs on Saturday, November 18. You can learn more about our outreach programs here, or support us with a donation here.

Q&A about Little Swallows with Marissa Russo

How do the Little Swallows classes at McGlone Academy differ from the ones you would teach at on-site at Swallow Hill Music?

The class at Swallow Hill that is most similar to the Little Swallows classes at McGlone Academy is “Singing, Movement, and Music Theory.” In both programs, in every class students are singing and playing other instruments, moving and dancing, analyzing, appreciating, and creating music. They’re learning to follow a director and/or read music. Both classes contain dramatic play activities, reading comprehension activities, counting, communicating with and respecting other students.

The differences are class size, time, and resources. The class size at McGlone is about 15 students, while classes at Swallow Hill are 3-10 students. At McGlone, I see each class once a week for 30 minutes for the entire school year. At Swallow Hill I see each class for 45 minutes once a week for 8 weeks and then the class ends. Finally, at Swallow Hill I have more resources at my disposal such as sound equipment, instruments, props such as scarves, and space.

Marissa Russo

Marissa Russo

How did you become involved with Swallow Hill’s outreach programming that brought you to teach at McGlone?

I have been teaching in Swallow Hill’s outreach program since 2014. I have taught high school singing, and high school and elementary school ukulele. I enjoy outreach because it gives me an opportunity to bring music and creative thinking skills to students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience music education. Aside from our outreach program I had been teaching early childhood music for several years and was really enjoying it. When (Director of Outreach and Instruction) Chris McGarry emailed me and a few other early childhood teachers about piloting an early childhood outreach program, I jumped at the opportunity to do so.

Did you grow up in a musical household? Do you have any early childhood musical memories that remind you of the children you teach?

Growing up, my dad played guitar and sang around the house a lot. He told me that when I was a baby he would stick me in my baby carrier and I would sleep through all of the band rehearsals he held in a garage with his friends on a regular basis. I don’t remember this, but I believe it had a big impact on my development, because as soon as I could talk, I was SINGING!! I saw The Wizard of Oz and Annie when I was about 2, and I would play them all the time so that I could sing along to all the words. You could say that I was obsessed with singing, and still am. And when I see the faces of the students light up when they hear me sing, or when they’re getting excited about singing, dancing, and playing other instruments, I see my own enthusiasm for music, and I know that I’ve made a connection.

Do you have a memory or two that stick out to you in particular when you think about your teaching experiences at McGlone?

Last year, the students invited me to their preschool Thanksgiving. It was the cutest and most endearing Thanksgiving I’ve ever experienced. All four classes (65 preschoolers) were seated at one enormously long table. We ate our turkey and mashed potatoes together, I got enormous, handmade cards from each class! I was so moved by the experience that it brought me to tears. The students were so excited I was there!

I later found out that the students were only allowed to invite a few adults to the Thanksgiving, and that they chose me as their special guest. I was so proud that they valued our time together as much as I did, and that they associated learning music with so much positivity and fun that they honored me in this way. It made me feel like I really made a connection with them, and with McGlone Academy.

This Q&A was conducted via email with Swallow Hill Music Content Marketing & Publicity Manager Barry Osborne.