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Return to Walker Charter Academy Helps Music Teacher Recall ‘Safe Space’

The education community speaks often about the broad impact teachers have on students’ lives and the guidance they provide, quoting statistics of graduation rates and college acceptance. Walker Charter Academy Music Teacher Katelyn DeClark’s journey adds a category to that conversation: Instilling Confidence.
The first-year teacher and recent Cornerstone University graduate has returned to Walker to teach after spending her middle school years at the school. It was a life-changing experience for her.
“This is kind of my dream school because when I went here, I came out of a school where I was kind of struggling with friendships and being bullied a little bit, so I came in here as the shy girl,” DeClark said.

An adult reading music. 
Walker’s choir and theater programs helped pull DeClark out of her shell, affirming her hopes of music playing a major role in her future.
“It really boosted my confidence a ton and it was a really special time in my life,” she said. “I knew I liked music but during the three years here I realized I was good at it; I could do it. The teachers that poured into me and invested in my life, specifically in the music department, it just meant a lot to me. I love this school and when the job was posted I was just like, that’s where I want to be. I just love it here.”
Although a bit overwhelming, DeClark has enjoyed the transition from college and student teaching to preparing for her first school year. She’s also thankful to have the support of two significant influences in her journey: Cornerstone Director of Music Programs and Choral Studies Dr. Kent Walters and Grandville Middle School Choir and Musical Theater Instructor Rachel Niewiada.

A person sorting music. 
“I just completed my student teaching in middle school choir and was able to learn from a teacher who was very great at making choir fun and making it engaging with energy,” DeClark said of Niewiada. “Middle schoolers can be tough to engage and get excited about music. Being able to learn in an environment at a school where that was exemplified so well, I think I’ll be able to carry those skills into elementary music too. I’m very thankful I learned from such a great cooperating teacher on how to engage all types of learners.”
DeClark studied Vocal Music Education at Cornerstone and participated in their student-led chapel bands, University Chorale, and Credo, an a cappella group.

A woman reading music. 
“I did every vocal music group I could, and I learned from a great professor (Dr. Walters) who taught the importance of choral music and how choral music can be used to educate the whole child.”
“That can happen through learning music, musical concepts, and how to create beautiful sounds, but also the meaning behind the text and how to sing the meaning even if it’s in a foreign language. Music can connect to people and tap into emotions that the words can’t. I feel so ready to teach choir particularly from what I learned from Dr. Walters.”
DeClark spent the past few months working at a summer camp, so she’s prepared with plenty of silly songs to teach the kids, which should help the comfort level of the students early-on.
“When you hear them, they just sound fun and there are motions, but a lot of them have to do with learning names, a lot of them deal with pitch, a lot of them have to do with keeping a steady beat, and they’re just great ice breakers.
“I have a lot of them I’ll incorporate in the first week to get students involved and show that music is fun, and they don’t have to be embarrassed and know that this is a safe space.”
The same safe space which welcomed her not so many years ago.

About Walker Charter Academy
Walker Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Walker, Mich., serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes over 95 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit