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Feb 27, 2017 | Paulette E. Martin

Children’s Choir Noted for Academic Improvement

 

St. Paul’s/San Pablo Reaches Out to Area Kids 

The empty church was filled with resonating “ahhhs” coming from a group of young children at St. Paul’s, Houston, as they warmed up their voices to sing.

“Open your mouth wide and really emphasize the ‘ahhhhh,’ pretend you want [the audience] to be able to read your lips,” explained Kari Zimmerman, director of the Children’s Choir.

The children’s choir is fairly new. In August 2016, the Rev. Ed Gómez started to recruit students from nearby Park Place Elementary School. The church has a deep connection with the school as their first meeting place in 1923.

“I wanted kids from low-income families to have access to arts programs because I have heard and read about how music education helps improve academic achievement,” Gómez said. He learned the school was no longer offering art programs to its students.

“I felt it was the Holy Spirit who brought us together and that’s when we decided to start a kid’s choir,” Gómez said. Gómez received a community engagement grant from the Episcopal Health Foundation and raised an additional $1,000 to start the choir.

“I think I made the biggest gasp in the room when Father Ed made the announcement one Sunday,” Zimmerman remembered, laughing. “I went to coffee hour and told him I’d love to teach the choir—he had no idea I was a music school teacher.”

Zimmerman, a soprano singer, has been singing at St. Paul’s since October 2012 and she is also a Pre-K choir teacher in the Aldine School District. She sometimes incorporates Christian history into the music lessons when introducing a new song.

Cynthia Daniela Rios, who attends the KIPP Intrepid Preparatory School, loves to come to choir practice. She wants to be a singer and said she has sung duets and solos at her school.

“I like the rhythm and how you feel whenever you sing,” the 11-year-old said. “Singing makes me feel happier. I get excited to come here. It makes me work harder to get better grades. My mom won’t let me come if I have bad grades.”

Eva Osorio teaches fitness and nutrition at St. Paul’s and brings her 10-year-old daughter, Jatzyry, a student at Lewis Elementary, to choir practice every Wednesday. Osorio said she has noticed significant improvements in her daughter’s schoolwork and behavior. 

“My daughter struggles to learn,” Osorio said. “It’s hard for her to retain information [but] since she started singing, I have noticed it is easier for her to read and memorize musical notes.”

Osorio also shares with enthusiasm that her daughter was able to sing in German during the Christmas concert last December. “I was impressed. To hear your daughter sing in a new language—you start thinking, if she’s able to do that now, I can’t wait to see what else she’ll be able to learn if she keeps coming!”

“Music is the only subject that uses all of the seven intelligences—kids get to interact with other kids, do math, read, sing—it helps develop parts of the left side of the brain that process language,” Zimmerman said.

José Nelson Sandoval brings his 9-year-old daughter, Luz, to choir practice so she can improve how she communicates and interacts with other kids her age. Luz was born and grew up in El Salvador, spent some time in Mexico and now is trying to learn English and get caught up in school, Sandoval explained.

“This is her first year here in the United States, so she faces a lot more obstacles than the other kids her age,” Sandoval said.

Although the choir is relatively new, Gómez and Zimmerman have a lot of plans to expand and offer more resources to the students. Zimmerman recently applied for a grant to get a keyboard. The choir is also working on getting recorders and robes for their upcoming concerts on Palm Sunday and Mother’s Day.

“We want to offer kids catechism, pre-evangelization to the best of our traditions, improve their educational outcomes as well as their studies,” Gómez said. The choir also serves to familiarize new families with St. Paul’s/San Pablo and brings the community together in the important work of providing healthy resources for their children. 

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