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Ensemble Connect: Public School Residencies

Each year, Ensemble Connect fellows partner with a New York City public school instrumental teacher for a 25-day residency, strengthening students’ music skills through a creativity-rich approach. Cellist Arlen Hlusko reflects on her experiences with the students of PS 532 New Bridges Elementary as part of this ongoing collaboration.


First Impressions

Shortly after 8 AM on any given morning, the lobby of PS 532 New Bridges Elementary is filled with a frenzy of excitement as sweet, smiling faces kiss their parents goodbye and join their friends in the auditorium. Accompanied by those sights are the sounds of where they are headed, the entire student body sings and dances along with Alice Tsui (known as “Ms. Alice” by her students) in “Bright Start,” kicking off each day in true New Bridges Elementary style with community, positivity, and artistic expression. I personally can’t think of a better way to start the day. Everyone in the New Bridges Elementary community enters a safe, supportive, and nurturing environment, eager to learn, explore, and discover. Central to the discovery process at New Bridges Elementary is the use of the arts—primarily song and dance—as a form of exploration and personal expression. 

I feel incredibly lucky to have been partnered with this community. In an educational environment that already has a deeply embedded artistic culture, I really had to ask myself: “What is my purpose in this school? The music teacher is passionate, inspired, and more than capable to set these students up with a brilliant musical foundation. What can I add that the curriculum might not have space for if I weren’t here?” I have been fortunate to find a true partner teacher in Ms. Alice, as we both explore the realm of co-teaching and what it means to inspire and support each other as we hopefully do the same for our students. The year is young yet, but we are excitedly finding our way together. Of course, a given part of my weekly visit is that I perform for my students. I am ever fascinated by language and linguistics, so I proposed the idea of taking our students around the world through music: I perform for them a piece from a different country each week and delve why that country might have a different sound world than the previous one (explaining that it is influenced by its own culture and language), and then we incorporate anything we can from things they may be learning in their other classes. 

My goal over the course of the next two years is to not only develop creative and critical listening skills in my students, but also to excite and inspire them through music, allowing room for them to create their own personal relationships with music and the way they interpret it. I hope to help them cultivate tools to help them express themselves and their feelings about music, as well as aid them in finding their own solace in music. I am so excited to be working in a classroom context that is open to such an imaginative and experimental journey, and am excited to experience all the twists and turns the students are going to take Ms. Alice and me on over the next two years.


Settling In

I’ve only been at PS 532 New Bridges Elementary for about six weeks, and yet I already feel so intimately connected to the community, and immensely inspired by the positive and supportive environment. The students have been astonishingly eager and ecstatic to learn, passionate and knowledgeable about music, and purely joyous and heartwarming to spend time with. I always practice in the music room on my lunch break, and most days, at least one student stops in just to say hello and asks to listen. One time, three students snuck in and hid by the door to listen to me practice. Once I noticed them, they begged me to play a tango that I had introduced them to the week prior (before I told them they should get back to their class!). I love their enthusiasm for music and learning! It makes me even more excited to teach them. I can’t even begin to express how thrilled I am to have the opportunity to spend these next two years journeying through music with them. We are incredibly lucky to get to do what we do!


Final Thoughts

New Bridges Elementary school is entirely covered in scaffolding, and made invisible to passersby in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Contained inside is a community of teachers and students who are eager to learn and to foster a colorful environment of encouragement and exploration in every endeavor. I feel extremely lucky to get to be a part of the fabric of this community for the next two years as I forge a true partnership with Ms. Alice and we explore together how music can enrich, inspire, and open the minds and hearts of the students who so generously share their experiences with us day in and day out. In the short six weeks we’ve shared so far, I have been blown away by the students’ drive and motivation, their eagerness to learn, and their willingness to try new things, and I am excited for the opportunity to experience through their eyes the “magic” they find in music. I can’t wait to see where these next two years will take us!

—Arlen Hlusko

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