Franklin Middle School choir teacher Crystal Forbes teaches her students to sing in other languages, hit difficult notes and read music. She has singers who sound like they’ve been on Broadway for years.
She has also inspired her students to volunteer on their own time, and instilled in them a respect and appreciation for senior citizens.
She brings culture, history and societal issues into the classroom and has inspired her students to use their talent and big hearts to give back in the community—a value most people learn much later in life.
This year, two Franklin Middle School female choral groups—Vocal Ensemble and the Lyric Singers—have traveled to area senior living facilities to sing to residents. This week, they’ll sing at Brighton Gardens in Wheaton.
Early in the year, Franklin Assistant Principal Joe Kish made a push with teachers to encourage social emotional learning skills, Forbes said.
She said the conversation brought back an idea to sing to seniors that had fallen through years ago, and she was quickly able to set up times to take her students to sing at facilities in the area.
“Learning from the books is extremely important, but learning to get along with other people and to be a productive member of society is another important piece of the puzzle,” Forbes said.
She said the school's fine arts team has been specifically focused on social emotional learning this year under the leadership of art teacher Chris Grodoski.
Grodoski will also take his students to Brighton Gardens, where students will do portraits of residents, and the Franklin orchestra will perform at the Wyndemere Retirement Community next month.
"I know kids this age, other than relatives, probably don't get interaction with other age groups than we used to when we didn't live in nuclear families," she said. "Some of them have preconceived notions about senior citizens and it was really important for me to show them that we owe these people a lot. They've given so much to our society and so much of what we have today is due to that generation."
She talked with students about what it would be like to visit the seniors. She asked students to make eye contact and approach at least one person to shake their hand and thank them for watching their performance.
Then she told them, "Don't be surprised if you shake their hands (and) they hold on to your hands and want to have a conversation with you.”
After one performance at the DuPage Convalescent Center, a resident told one of the students that if the staff didn’t bring the choral group back, she would pay to bring them back herself.
Seventh grader Emily Henson started volunteering at Belmont Village in Carol Stream when her grandmother, Gretchen, moved there last summer.
As she got to know the residents and staff, she started helping more and more on her visits, participating in group activities, making cookies and visiting with other residents.
"Helping out really makes an impact on me about feeling better—that they feel better... (it) makes me feel good that I'm doing something good with my time... I've gotten to know a few of them really well," she said.
Kinsey Dansdill, also a seventh grader at Franklin, goes to the DuPage Convalescent Center on Sundays to play piano and sing for residents. One trip with her class led to a service project for her confirmation at St. Mike’s, to a personal interest.
"I just really like interacting with the residents,” she said. “I've really been learning a lot from them... They're all really hardworking people and they've told me a lot about their lives—and (have taught me) to just keep trying and to never give up. A lot of them are from the Great Depression, so they've told me stories about that.”
Henson and Dansdill have been kind of like quiet leaders among their peers.
"People always say, ‘When you give, you get back.’ I know that's not why these girls are doing it, but if you could see the two of them in class ... you can just see the joy in their eyes, that they see there is a bigger world outside their school and their activities," Forbes said.
"... A lot of teenagers don't get that nowadays. These girls have big hearts and they've got so much of themselves and so much love to share. I think they're setting a great example for their peers."
In a letter to Franklin parents, Kish commended the girls for the example they've set.
"One of the goals we strive for at Franklin is to make learning relevant to the lives of our students," he wrote. "The actions of these two girls will have a positive impact the quality of life for more than 100 residents at each facility.
“I do not think I have ever been as proud of a group of students as I have for those who are in the choral program at Franklin Middle School,” Kish wrote. “Part of my mantra to our teachers and staff back in August was treating the idea that being an educator is a privilege, not an entitlement. Mrs. Forbes and the efforts of our choral program have served me a great reminder that it is a true privilege to be the Assistant Principal for such a fantastic group of kids and staff at Franklin Middle School."
Editor's note: This story has been changed to include a complete quote at the ending.