The students want to sing. They want to take their mind off of whatever is bothering them, I feel it’s more rewarding for me. I’m helping them more emotionally to express themselves and to give them what brings joy in their lives.
Merrillan Melberg’s music students may wonder if their parents will make it to their next concert – or come home at all.
That’s because those parents are serving in the military, potentially deployed and in harm’s way. For Melberg, this makes her job teaching American students at the Department of Defense Education Activity’s Patch Middle School all the more important.
“The students want to sing. They want to take their mind off of whatever is bothering them,” said Melberg, G’17. “I feel it’s more rewarding for me. I’m helping them more emotionally to express themselves and to give them what brings joy in their lives.”
The school is located at the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart in Germany.
Melberg (pictured at right) studied music education at Bridgewater State University. She believes education should transcend the classroom experience when possible, which is why she worked to give students all the educational benefits and experience of a real music festival.
Musicians who excel in middle school in the United States often perform at regional festivals. That same experience wasn’t available to students at Patch and other schools on U.S. bases in Germany. So Melberg enhanced an existing festival to create one complete with guest instructors that mirrors the experience talented singers have stateside. And, she turned to BSU Associate Professor Sarah McQuarrie of the Music Department to help lead the event.
Dr. McQuarrie and her husband, Dr. Ronald Sherwin, who teaches at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, traveled to Stuttgart in February to work with about 65 middle school singers chosen by audition from Department of Defense schools in Germany.
“It turned out to be a really great experience,” Melberg said. “The kids had a great time. They’re still talking about it.”
McQuarrie accompanied the singers on piano and led professional development sessions for music teachers. She initially saw the trip as just another gig, however, said that it turned out to mean so much more after meeting students whose parents sometimes miss concerts due to deployment.
As for the parents, McQuarrie found they were grateful for the opportunity their children had.
“It wasn’t until I got over there that I realized how important it was and how incredibly strong the students and teachers are over there,” she said. “This isn’t just something you do. This means a lot.”
Melberg praised McQuarrie and other BSU professors for teaching her about educational standards and taking students beyond reading notes on a piece of sheet music, skills that have proven invaluable working at Patch.
Melberg, who has always wanted to travel, hopes to have a long career teaching at DOD schools.
“This is a way I can serve my country and still get to experience living abroad,” she said.
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