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MIDDLETON — A sure way to dampen student interest in improvisation and free play is the pressure of seeing other students waiting in line to use the same musical instruments.

That’s what music teacher Theoni Acosta found as her students waited in class at Elm Lawn Elementary School in Middleton to use the limited percussion instruments that were available.

So she applied for an inspiration grant from the MCPASD Education Foundation and was awarded $2,500 to purchase four xylophones and a contrabass bar, getting the percussion instrument-to student-ratio closer to 1:2.

“Before there were only three stations, and two people had to be on the carpet, and you had to wait a lot longer,” fourth-grader Noah Kavanaugh said.

He said now there are four stations, and students have more time on instruments.

“We can basically express our music more so we can make better music,” fourth-grader Max Kirchstein said.

Fourth-grader Lilly Schueffner agreed that it sounds better this year when all of the instruments are being played.

The MCPASD Education Foundation is a nonprofit organization that raises funds to augment programs and activities provided by the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District through teacher innovation grants, student scholarships and a growing endowment.

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It annually awards staff inspiration grants to fund innovative and unique programs that complement the district’s educational goals. The grants provide experiences for students that go beyond those offered in a traditional learning environment.

“When our committee reviews grant applications from Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District staff, we consider several criteria. Our goals include funding programs that complement the district’s educational goals and that make an impact on a large number of students,” said Carrie Brooker, foundation board member. “We awarded Theoni a grant because we liked her approach to fostering improvisation and free play in music class. We thought it may be a pilot program that could be extended to more district elementary schools.”

Acosta said she also added some school money to get the new instruments, which have made a big difference and sometimes the ratio is even better than 1:2.

“They’re not rushed,” she said. “Little kids need to improvise. They need some free play.”

Acosta, who also teaches at Sunset Ridge Elementary School in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, said she uses the Orff method, which combines singing, movement and instrument playing. Lessons are similar to child’s world of play, and the music that is generated is largely improvisational.

She said in addition to helping with class management, cutting down on waiting time is “just more fun.”

“There used to be all these people fighting (over instruments),” Noah said. “Now there isn’t as much fighting.”

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