Elizabeth Braren was named Collier County (FL) Elementary School Teacher of the Year in 2007 and received the Award for Excellence in Arts Education in 2008 and the Golden Apple Award in 2010.
by Jordan Chapman“I can’t say I have completed all of my goals, because there is always something to learn.”–Elizabeth Braren ’77
In 1974, Garden City’s Cathedral School of St. Mary hired Elizabeth Braren ’77 to create and teach its fifth- through 12th-grade music curriculum. She accepted the position as an Adelphi University sophomore working toward her teaching degree, and she excelled.
Fast forward 39 years and you’ll find Ms. Braren teaching on Marco Island, Florida, heading up the music program at the Tommie Barfield Elementary School. She sees more than 600 students a week for a 50-minute class in Collier County, which has the largest school district east of the Mississippi River and boasts 3,500 students. That’s a lot of names to remember.
Thanks to a solid foundation in teaching built at Adelphi and on her own initiative, Ms. Braren was named Collier County Elementary School Teacher of the Year in 2007 and received the Award for Excellence in Arts Education in 2008 and the Golden Apple Award in 2010.
“I love what I do; I’m passionate about what I do and the children can see that,” Ms. Braren said. “They respond to that.”
After moving to Florida in 1989, she began working as a part-time music teacher at three different schools. Some educators would have been overwhelmed. But Ms. Braren saw a golden opportunity, one that is now represented by 600 smiling faces and beautiful singing voices every week.
“I challenge myself to learn new and better things every year,” said Ms. Braren, whose students are the prime beneficiaries.
Ms. Braren received grants to get her school a keyboard lab, authentic steel drums from Trinidad and Tobago and a professional karaoke machine, and then she began a wildly successful program called Breakfast with the Stars.
With 300 students participating and many more waiting in the wings, the 30-minute program is held every Friday morning before class and includes a free breakfast. While the audience eats pancakes, participants belt out a tune and follow along with the bouncing ball on each word, becoming better readers and learning vocabulary through music.
And don’t forget the fun.
Children have the choice of signing up in advance to perform current songs or sing-alongs, Ms. Braren said. She even helps them prepare.
“The added benefit is the opportunity it gives students to talk about their culture in class,” she said.
Ms. Braren’s students also had the unique opportunity to sing and play steel drums on a PBS program about kids and creativity. In addition to her classroom teaching, she leads a group of fourth- and fifth-graders called The Morning Musicians who perform at restaurants, country clubs and rotaries.
“The kids just love it,” said Ms. Braren, while also praising the parents who encourage their children to practice at least three times a week.
As if Ms. Braren was not active enough, she also helped launch the music program at two other schools in Collier County and is involved in the district’s Positive Behavior Support program. The program teaches character-building skills, including how to shake hands with people and the importance of making eye contact, speaking in complete sentences and answering questions politely.
Although she has achieved much, Ms. Braren is not done. “I can’t say I have completed all of my goals, because there is always something to learn,” she said. “I set goals for myself that are open-ended: How do I make that an even better program? When can we add on to that program?”
When Ms. Braren began teaching, her goals were not so far-reaching. But with a wealth of experience and her many collaborations with colleagues, she has grown into the award-winning educator she is today.
Currently, Ms. Braren and her third-graders are looking forward to their spring concerts and, as always, she’s preparing for that next big thing.
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