Shane Monkman is a music teacher at G.W. Graham middle secondary school. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Shane Monkman is a music teacher at G.W. Graham middle secondary school. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Heroes in Education: Music education in a year like no other

Shane Monkman keeping music alive for kids at G.W. Graham

The Chilliwack Progress is honoured to profile seven ‘Heroes in Education’ from a long and amazing list of nominees sent to us from the Chilliwack community.

Despite the disruptive nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the music program at G.W. Graham middle secondary school carries on as a safe haven for music students.

Music teacher Shane Monkman has been painstakingly developing the music program over the years so it’s been especially tough to watch the pandemic decimate his time with students, their musical opportunities, and dreams.

“We’re trying to keep music alive for the kids,” Monkman said. “This year has been like no other.”

Typically they’d put on five or six concerts a year. They’d also pack up the instruments and get on the road to take part in festivals, competitions and band trips.

Now they’ve been limited to livestreaming, in place of live performance, so they record tunes by day, and release them by livestream at night.

Monkman’s been working in earnest with the GWG concert band, jazz band, vocal jazz, and pep band.

The individual who nominated him describes the protective enclave he’s created in the music room:

“For so many students this program is their second home. Their safe space. Their passion. To accommodate them he has rearranged his schedule to work before and after school with students each day.”

They file in an hour early at 7 a.m. or stay after school to squeeze in the all-important rehearsal time. They do it masked, and distanced, with bell covers, which is doing whatever they have to do maintain proper hygiene and keep up the musical end of their education.

“The dedication and resilience from students has just been outstanding,” Monkman said.

Some of the graduating students have started preparing for post-secondary auditions.

“There are 22 graduating students in the music program,” he said proudly. “That’s a testament to the program.”

It’s been tough keeping those critical connections going between teacher and student, as they progress through theory and practice. The octet condenses each school subject into 21-day units but it’s almost impossible to teach music that quickly.

The kids can’t play for five hours straight, he said. They need to sit with the music, but that’s time they don’t have this year within the octet structure.

Monkman’s teaching mentor was his music teacher Janine Webster, who first taught him in 1999. He picked up the alto saxophone at Mt. Slesse middle, and then played throughout high school, before getting his degree.

He became a student teacher under Webster at GWG in 2008, and he remembers being thrilled to be hired on that year to teach alongside her.

“She had such love and passion for music, and Janine brought that incredible energy to bear her entire career – in turn inspiring hundreds of students. I think if I could accomplish one-tenth of what she did, I would consider myself a success.”

One student told him it’s the music that keeps her coming to school every day – despite everything.

“That’s why I do this job, and why I don’t work a day in my life,” Monkman said upon hearing that from one of his students.

“I do what I love, and when I see joy in their eyes, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

Go to theprogress.com/community to read about Chilliwack’s other Heroes in Education. All seven features will be published May 1 and 2.

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