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Oct 31, 2019

Meet Miss Terry, GITC Special Educator from L.A.!

Terry Tasby
Terry Tasby

Dear Friend of Students with Special Needs,

Today's update is a close up interview with one of our most dedicated special educators. the AMAISE-ing Miss Terry, As you probably know, AMAISE stands for Adaptive Music for Achievement in Inclusion and Special Ed. And when Terry started coming to GITC classes, there was no such thing. Dedicated and caring teachers like her are the reason we took on the charge of developing a distinct and comprehensive approach to adapting music instruction for students whose needs span a wide array of medical, cognitive, behavioral, neurological and psychological conditions.

My name is Gail and I am the Programs Manager for Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom. At the GITC AMAISE conference in October, I had the opportunity to chat at length with special education teacher Terry.  She works with special needs preschoolers in the Los Angeles Unified School District and is passionate about making a difference for her students, her school, and her community. Even though the recent conference was for teachers in San Diego Unified, Terry made the journey to join teachers here and help out. 

GITC Founder, Director, Jess Baron introduced me to Terry and asked that I get to know her better. "She is always here with a smile, ready to learn, explore and assist, " Jess told me. "Let's find out where all that passion and dedication comes from. Terry is very special!" Fortunately the conference, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts gave me a chance to watch Terry in action and visit with her at length. 

When I asked Terry how she became a Special Education teacher she laughed and said that throughout her career she always comes to something “backside first” - she takes an unconventional path to arrive where she is meant to be. We find this is the case with many people who become special educators, resource teachers or music therapists. They tend to have discovered the importance of the work and their own propensity to innovate. 

Terry grew up in Southern California and she was marching to the beat of her own drum even as a teen.  When she graduated from high school she rebelled against parental expectations and went into the workforce instead of continuing her education.  After a number of years in a wide variety of jobs, Terry took a position working with residents of the Orange County Jail in Santa Ana, California.  She discovered that their literacy skills were extremely low, severely limiting their opportunities as adults. In fact, a recent study showed that 70 percent of inmates in California prisons are functionally illiterate. When Terry saw the inmates low level of literacy it made a strong impression on her. She realized she would make a bigger impact if she helped young children gain those skills.  So, in her 40’s, Terry decided to go back to school and complete her education. She entered Mills College through their Resuming Studentprogram and in 1999 earned her teaching credential.

For the next eight years Terry was a general education teacher in grades Kinder and first. This gave her a close view of how students acquire spoken, written and visual language. It got her wheels turning! During that time she took Quinn’s GITC training, and discovered how music could enhance her students’ learning.  GITC's songwriting Lyrics for Learning made sense to her. And like most teachers who come to GITC, Terry shared that she had no musical background “at all!” This did not dampen her enthusiasm a bit. In fact it made the chance to learn to make music even more important. She now strums the ukulele and writes songs for learning, integrating music into her classroom every day!

In the summer of 2007 Terry moved to Los Angeles.  She thought it would be easy to get a job, but discovered there were no K-5 General Education teaching positions available.  While standing in the Human Resources office she saw an announcement that the L.A. Unified School District was hiring general education teachers who were interested in teaching special education. Terry immediately registered for Special Education training and was assigned her first class that fall.  She started using, and writing, songs and chants for her special needs students right away.

Terry has attended several AMAISE conferences as well as other GITC events.  She says each deep dive into the GITC curriculum adds layers of knowledge, and she always gains more confidence in her abilities.  I asked her what she would offer teachers who are thinking about taking the GITC training. She said, “I see my kids make so much progress!  If I can pick up a uke, cold, with no musical background, you can do it, too!”  

Terry’s vision is to take GITC outside her classroom to become a more integral part of her school and ultimately make a bigger impact in her community through music.  She wants to be known by all the kids in the school as “the fun uke teacher” and encourage other teachers to bring GITC to their classrooms. She loves how music crosses over into students’ learning and their socio-emotional development.  GITC brings more structure to her classroom, enhances learning, and makes everything more fun!

AMAISE Conference, October 2019, San Diego
AMAISE Conference, October 2019, San Diego


Oct 18, 2019

A Song for Survival in School and at Home!

Miss D trains our teachers!
Miss D trains our teachers!

Dear Supporter, 

Today we want to share with you about a song written to the tune of Bingo by our "Head of Sped," Desirée. This song is lovingly refered to as "The Green Zone Song" but its official title is "These Are Strategies."

If you have spent time with someone who experiences extreme sensory overstimulation that results in increasing levels of anxiety and aggression, you may know of the agony they experience. When sounds, sights and sensations become more than they can process or handle, it is normal for the extreme discomfort to make them "boil over" into violent behavior. Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, is she talking about Autism? My answer is maybe but not always. Just understanding that a child is in great distress is enough. And getting them to help is more important here than applying diagnostic labels. There are many reasons kids boil over.

Extreme behavior can look like flapping, shrieking, hitting, biting, screaming, attacking others and throwing objects. Students in these states usually become a danger to themselves and others. This escalation often leads to injuries and broken windows as well as the destruction of school property. When this happens in a classroom, classmates can become scared and may get hurt.

The teacher must contain the student if they can. If they cannot, they must "clear the classroom" meaning they have to quickly remove all of the other students from the room rather than risk injury. Learning is lost. Chaos reigns. And back in the classroom, in the absence of the teacher, the student in crisis may be breaking their teachers' supplies and furniture. This kind of event is happening every day.

By the time help eventually arrives, not much can be done. The storm has passed. The wreckage is everywhere including inside the student who boiled over. Students who have these behavioral emergencies may be suspended. If the troubles persist, they may be expelled. At the very least, they have lost academic time and caused other students to do the same. The police might get involved, too. The cost to the school and the school district is great as well. And the impact on the child and their family is very serious.

As a behaviorist, Miss D. asked herself what she could do that might possibly help students with extreme sensory and emotional overwhelm. And as a singer, songwriter and GITC Faculty Trainer, her first idea was to write a song for students to sing to remind themselves of things they can do to calm themselves down! She turned to a popular teaching approach for helping such students called the Zones of Regulation. You can read lots about it by following the link below. 

The appproach teaches students to identify their emotional condition according to color-coded zones and to come up with positive strategies to stay in or get back to the Green Zone. The zones include Green for calm, Yellow for stressed, Blue for sad and Red for angry.  In each zone the student learns to identify and name their feelings, study and practice constructive social thinking strategies that help them regain self control, and restore themselves to a calm inner state before it's too late. 

So Miss D created a verse for each zone with a blank in each verse so students can come up with feeling words that accurately describe their emotions. This is followed by another blank in which they can write a social thinking strategy that will get them "back to green" where they can "feel calm." When a student is in the Yellow Zone, they may feel "worried" and "need to breathe." In the Blue Zone they may feel "lonely" and need to "ask for a hug." in the Red Zone they may feel "furious" and need to "walk it out." The solutions students learn keep them and everyone else safe.

Miss D. first taught her song to students in our district's STARS program for college bound Autistic students. She was how quickly and enthusiastically her students adopted the song, asked to sing it daily, and began using it among themselves to help each other manage their own well-being. Then one day, a student in the throws of escalating from the Yellow Zone into Red came running into class and yelled to his classmates, "I need the Green Zone Song! Sing me the Green Zone song!" The class jumped right on it and sang their classmate down from Red, back through Yellow and clear on back to Green. It felt like nothing short of a miracle. Disaster was stopped in its tracks in 3 minutes. That student showed everyone how to calm down with the song at the time of crisis.

Since that day, our faculty in San Diego has been teaching the song to every educator who comes into our AMAISE trainings. AMAISE stands for Adaptive Music for Achievement in Inclusion and Special Education. Last weekend we held a conference for special educators in our district at Whittier School. The teachers came from all over San Diego! Everyone learned to sing, play and lead the "Green Zone Song." This week, students are learning a new way to help themselves understand and artfully manage their emotional states. We are so grateful and proud to be including it in the forthcoming songbook! 

Thank you so much for your support, Friends. You can read more about Miss D. at the link provided below that leads to a blog about her work with GITC. We cannot wait to share the book and her song with you by the end of this year!

We wish you well through plenty of green days ahead,



Sep 27, 2019

Meet Felicia Fis, School Psychologist and GITC Practitioner!

Felicia Fis Sharing Music with GITC Teachers
Felicia Fis Sharing Music with GITC Teachers

Dear Supporter,

Sometimes we send you an overall progress report, but today we want to introduce you to someone who is making a difference through GITC, Felicia Fis. Not only is Felicia supporting her students to grow and achieve personal insight and success everyday, but she is joining us to train her fellow educators. What we are learning from Felicia will be traveling through all the GITC programs this year. What is called Social Emotional Learning or SEL for short has become more and more important in all classrooms in the past year. As always, GITC is responding to the request from educators to give them training in this area so they can be as helpful and effective as possible teaching all kinds of learners.

Felicia Fis is a beacon of kindness, compassion and creativity in her work with Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom and as a school psychologist in San Diego Unified. This summer, Felicia presented a deeply moving and effective workshop to participants in our teacher retreat in Julian, called "Taking in the Good." Wherever she is-  with children, colleagues or GITC community members- her knowledge, her beautiful spirit, her voice and her comfort on guitar are pure inspiration!"

Felicia is now helping other GITC teachers and specialists understand how music can become a force for teaching calm and self-regulation in all classrooms. Specific behavioral strategies were once primarily in the domain of special education, but now all classrooms are embracing students with a variety of educational and social emotional challenges as part of a more inclusive approach. That means general classroom teachers want to learn exactly what Felicia teaches. 

“There are so many opportunities for students to feel overwhelmed in an inclusive classroom,” remarks Jess Baron, GITC Executive Director. “Waiting, going through transitions between activities, coping with overwhelming sound and visual stimuli, mediating conflicts with peers- any of these experiences can trigger students to become overwhelmed, frustrated, or even angry. Learning to work through those feelings in a classroom setting is a big job. And making music with students provides a very positive, natural medium for developing a wide range of self-regulation self-soothing strategies.“

Felicia agrees. She believes that every student has the potential to participate successfully in music. “One misconception about children with disabilities and social-emotional issues is that they don’t like sensory experiences -- when the truth is, they seek them out,” she explains. “If they are playing instruments and making the sounds, it is not dis-regulating. Instead, it regulates them because it’s tactile, visual, and auditory all at the same time.” 

As a school psychologist at Valencia Park and Paradise Hills elementary schools, Felicia works with many kids with physical challenges, social-emotional issues, and behavioral issues. Her room is full of instruments, and she has seen first-hand the incredible impact that playing them has on her students. 

“One student had significant behavioral challenges but he wanted to play guitar. Being able to come to my room and play guitar became a huge incentive for good behavior, and it had a ripple effect. Other kids started asking to play,” explains Felicia. 

In June, she attended GITC’s 2-day conference in AMAISE (Adapted Music for Achievement in Inclusion and Special Education), an experience she found to be both empowering and inspiring. The conference included hands-on adapted instrument training on drums, ukulele, guitar, and Beamz interactive music system, as well as instruction on how to write lyrics for learning and social-emotional development. “The songwriting piece is amazing,” Felicia explains. “Students with special needs feel SO proud when they write a song. They have utilized their strengths, their creativity and their expressive language to create something valuable. You can see immediately that their confidence has been boosted.” 

Felicia describes her work with GITC as “satisfying and fulfilling.” She hopes that more teachers will join the movement and they are -- because she’s recruiting them in droves! She is also witnessing students who didn’t want to go to school now feeling excited to attend because music is a part of their day. 

“Music and art are important. They open parts of people’s brains that other things don’t,” she says. “I’m always trying to figure out new ways to bridge music and learning.”


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