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Through Their Lens: Creating classroom success through inclusive music

Capitol View Elementary music teacher Tim Tate has adapted his music lessons to be inclusive of all students.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Students at Capitol View Elementary learn math, science, and reading every day, but administrators believe it’s one music teacher who really helps kids come alive.

When you hear music and singing in the Capitol View Elementary School hallways, it’s likely Mr. Tim Tate’s music class.

“I just told the kids yesterday I’m not here to teach you what you already now. I’m here to teach you something new so you can be a well-rounded musician,” Tate said.

That’s why for nearly 30 years, Mr. Tate has made it a priority to expose his students to different styles of music as a vocal music teacher.

“They get to explore what’s on the inside of them that they may not see upstairs in their math and their reading," Tate said. "I have some students who don’t necessarily excel upstairs but comedown here and come alive.” 

And feeling alive is how Tate wants his students to feel all the time.

He knows Capitol View is different from most Des Moines elementary schools: minority students make up more than half the population, and many don’t speak English.

Tate has adapted his music curriculum to include every student, even including ASL for students who are hard of hearing.

“Not just the Beethoven, which is wonderful because I do teach them that, but I give them the John Coltranes and Mahalia Jacksons," Tate said. "I give it to them because I want them to be consumers of all music.” 

Vice Principal Noemi Mendez has high praise for Mr. Tate and believes the inclusiveness in his class drives students to succeed.

“He sees 100% of our students here and because we’re so diverse, some of our kids don’t know English but in his class, they’re so successful and our kids feel successful and at the end of the day, every kid in there is learning,” Mendez said.

Being just one of two Black teachers at the school, Mr. Tate takes it to heart to set an example for young Black kids. But since being at this school, he says he’s even grown himself.

“I’ve always taught Black children so when I came to Capitol View six years ago, I knew this was all Hispanic and Latino kids so I was quite nervous," Tate said. "But I said ‘You know what Tim? This is the same thing. Go and allow those kids to see themselves’ so I had to broaden repertoire and I’m not teaching Spanish songs, I have Spanish songs at my concerts so they feel the same pride I felt as a Black child.”

Mendez said feeling seen helps students succeed – but more than anything, kids feel safe in Mr. Tate’s class.

“They have to feel safe," Mendez said. "They have to have a relationship with the educator in the classroom to actually produce some results and I think in his class, 100% of the students feel safe.” 

One day, when these students are far beyond the Capitol View hallways,Tate hopes students remember just two things about him.

“Number one – that I cared and two – I presented them their culture,” Tate said.

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