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Yellow Medicine East Music Instructor Nicole Boelter directs the school's jazz band, top, during a session while Greg Keel, a professional musician with the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis, is seen on the TV monitor behind Boelter. A broadband Internet connection makes Keel and other musicians with the Center the e-colleagues of music instructors in a number of area schools. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

Instrumental music instructor at YME gets by with a little help from her online friends

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GRANITE FALLS -- High school music instructors are not on the endangered species list, but tight budgets and declining enrollments have reduced their numbers in many rural school districts.

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That's why Nicole Boelter, instrumental music instructor for the Yellow Medicine East Schools in Granite Falls, admits she initially resisted a proposal to offer online instruction to her students through the MacPhail Center for Music in Minnesota.

She was worried it was a step toward replacing classroom teachers.

Case in point: She was one of two instrumental music instructors in the district when she began teaching in it 10 years ago. Today she is the lone instrumental instructor for students in grades 6 through 12.

Yet she no longer feels so all alone, thanks to the online connection.

"It's been fabulous,'' said Boelter.

The YME School is participating in the MacPhail Online Residency Initiative. Other participating school districts in the region currently include Benson, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, MACCRAY, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, Glencoe-Silver Lake, Lakeview in Cottonwood, Hutchinson, Montevideo and Willmar.

Boelter's jazz band class received attention earlier this autumn when a Governor's Task Force looking at how broadband capabilities are benefiting schools joined one of the online sessions.

The MacPhail Center for Music is a nonprofit organization that offers music education at locations in the metropolitan area and through online partnerships.

A broadband Internet connection and studio-quality audio system make it possible for direct, one-on-one interaction between teachers at the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis and music students in the rural schools.

Boelter's new e-colleague is Greg Keel. He is a professional musician with the MacPhail Center who has performed with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, and bands including The Temptations.

He's now on a first-name basis with many of Boelter's students. Every week, Keel is a high-definition presence on a large, flat-screen TV in the YME band room.

The value of that kind of assistance is hard to overstate when you are the one instrumental instructor in a school.

Her students enjoy the opportunity to work with professional musicians who are very respectful of them, Boelter added.

Most rural students do not have the opportunity to interact with professional musicians as do their urban counterparts, she noted. This system helps even the score.

Also, she's found that her own instruction carries more oomph. There's nothing like having a professional musician re-enforce the points and lessons you make to students.

She is no longer worried that online instructors will replace classroom teachers.

Her concern now is a more familiar one. A grant from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, funded by sales tax revenue approved as part of the Legacy Amendment, makes possible the partnership with the MacPhail Center for YME and other participating schools in the Minnesota River Valley Educational District. Boelter doesn't know whether the YME district will be able to continue its participation when the funding ends.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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