“The Connection” is a bi-weekly newspaper published by
the Sacramento Unified School District
Reprinted from “The Connection” Volume 4, Number 17 – May 1, 2003
Learning Phonics, Math And History Through Music
by Jemileen U. Nuqui – editor
Making a difference, one song at a time would best describe Ken Cooper’s teaching style. A professional musician, he uses his voice and guitar to sing and compose tunes that teach. His theme songs – chosen to suit the lessons being discussed in each grade level – range from phonics and math to historical events such as the California Gold Rush and the Civil War. His involvement in education started when he was asked to volunteer in his son’s kindergarten class eight years ago. Today, he teaches his Kindergarten Sing program at Sutterville, John Cabrillo and Bret Harte elementary schools.
Cooper explained that the Kindergarten Sing program reinforces reading and counting competence, social skills and provides an opportunity for youngsters to learn music appreciation.
“It all started at Sutterville, where the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) decided to hire me to teach the program,” he said. “Then, it was just word of mouth. More parents learned about my work and encouraged their PTAs to hire me.”
Cooper also conducts music-related programs for fourth and fifth grade classes in Sutterville. He selects songs that depict the topics discussed in their Open Court curriculum. For example, the program called the California Gold Rush In Song would include songs such as “We Are All A-Pannin” and “Sacramento.”
But he does not just teach music, he shares information on each song’s historical background and characters during that period.
Another program, Going West – Songs of the 1800’s, relates to the Going West unit in Open Court reading anthology. Themes of overcoming challenges, motivation, impact on the land and different cultures are reinforced in the lyrics of the songs he chose. He is currently working on ten blues and jazz songs for the sixth grade Open Court unit Beyond the Notes.
“I make sure that anything I bring into the classroom augments what students are learning in class,” Cooper said. “I collaborate with the teachers to make sure we’re on the same page.”
Outside of conducting his programs, Cooper is a substitute teacher at Sutterville. He has taught kindergarten through sixth grade.
“I thought about becoming a regular teacher, but I like what I’m doing – being able to bring music to a lot of kids,” he said. “Maybe I’ll pursue that later.”
While Cooper now enjoys teaching, education was never a field he thought he would join. “I never really saw myself as a teacher,” he said. “I’m a musician. But these days, when I see the kids’ faces light up when I enter a room, it’s just a wonderful feeling. Children are the best audience.”
He is grateful for the continued support he receives from parents, teachers and school administrators. “I have been working with great people,” he said. “With limited school budgets, it is unfortunate that arts and music get cut. But with programs like these, we can at least bring some music into the classrooms.”
Cooper was a computer science graduate, but he was very passionate about music and followed that direction. He moved from Albany, NY to Los Angeles, CA where he worked as a musician – writing songs and playing in many bands.
He and his wife moved to Sacramento in 1992 after their son was born. “We were watching the news and it showed schools in L.A. were installing metal detectors; that’s when we decided it was time to go,” he said.
Cooper now performs in a band called the Loose Acoustic Trio. The group plays bluegrass, country and old folk songs. They perform at Farmers Markets, local clubs, schools, fairs and festivals.