Tuesday mornings at Hilltop Neighborhood House are always a cacophony of excited rhythms as preschool students shake maracas, bang on cymbals, and jingle tambourines.

For Stephanie O’Mahoney, who is leading these jam sessions as a part of her school music class, the excitement she sees in the kids reminds her of her own childhood.

“All throughout my school years, music was such an important part of my entire life,” she recalled.

Growing up O’Mahoney sang and played the French horn and the viola. Music was her creative outlet, and now that she’s studying music education at Valparaiso University, she’s hoping she’ll be able to give to future generations what her teachers gave her.

“It’s an escape for some kids. It’s a source of joy in the midst of whatever is going on in their lives, and it’s something I want to be able to give to others after all that I’ve been given,” she said. “It’s brought me so much joy, and I just want to share that.”

O’Mahoney hopes to one day teach music to elementary- and middle-school-aged students, but thanks to a music education course called “School Music,” O’Mahoney hasn’t had to wait until after graduation to get to make the kind of impact she’s always dreamed of making.

O’Mahoney spends every Tuesday morning sharing her love of music with some very talented preschoolers at the Hilltop Neighborhood House, an early education center in the city of Valparaiso.

“You don’t think about kids being musicians at such a young age, but some of these kids make me think, ‘Wow, I hope they become a famous artist someday,’” O’Mahoney said.

Jeffrey Doebler is the director of the music education program at Valparaiso University and teaches O’Mahoney’s school music class. The class is designed to expose Music Education students to real world classroom environments.

The class is small — with just five students — allowing them to do observations at a local middle school and to go to Hilltop every Tuesday to lead music lessons for classes of children ages 2 through 5.

“The privilege of teaching at Hilltop Neighborhood House is a great experience for our students,” said Doebler. “It is an ideal way to learn about the developmental level of preschool students.”

Doebler has been taking music education students to Hilltop for nearly 10 years, and the opportunity has been a valuable learning experience for everyone involved.

“One of the best ways to learn about teaching is to be right there immersed in it,” said O’Mahoney. “It’s one thing to read about teaching scenarios in a book. It’s another thing to actually go in and be face-to-face with students.”

Each student in Doebler’s class has several opportunities to lead lessons for the preschoolers throughout the semester. Doebler’s students are practicing planning lessons, managing a classroom, and thinking on their feet when the little ones become unruly.

But by far the biggest lesson she’s learned is how exciting it can be to see students growing before her eyes.

“It is so meaningful to see the joy on their faces as they are learning as they are having fun,” she said. “It makes me even happier and even more excited to become a music teacher.”

Read the full magazine online at valpo.edu/valpomag.

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