Family check-in: Keeping rhythm with the Leeds

Leeds Family and Dr. Fineske
Posted On: Friday, April 17, 2020

Leeds family with Dr. Fineske

One thing is for sure about the Leeds’ home during the stay-at-home order: Headphones are always nearby!

That’s because dad (Michael) is the instrumental music director at the Junior/Senior High School. While 6th-grader Jeremiah and 2nd-grader Allison study quietly or log on for remote sessions under the district’s Remote Learning Plan (RLP), Mr. Leeds continues to teach his 60-plus music students.

And that means sound. Lots of it.

“Finding a personal work environment for each of us took some time and creativity,” Mr. Leeds said. “Everyone needed their own personal space to dialogue, take calls, communicate, and listen without disturbing one another.”

To find that quiet, the family, including wife/mom Elizabeth, are spaced out across multiple floors and opposite ends of their house. Mrs. Leeds is the operations supervisor at the Social Security Administration office in Bowling Green; she is in that office two days a week and at home for three. That meant finding her an at-home workspace, too.

“At certain times, everyone had to log into a meeting or class at the same time. But having a set schedule and working on independence let us be confident our ‘little learners’ were ready to go while the parents could focus on their work,” Mr. Leeds said.

Having an Ottawa Hills teacher in the house has its benefits. Before the RLP took effect, Mr. Leeds created a “COVID Classroom” to let Jeremiah and Allison practice logging in, video etiquette, and navigating through the tabs of the classroom.

“The first login filled our house with laughter as well as a video of the ceiling,” Mr. Leeds recalled. “But they quickly caught on and have felt confident and prepared for this type of interface.”

Teaching to a much larger group, let alone a group of student musicians, presents unique challenges.

“Performing in a class like Instrumental Music as individuals – compared to as a group – means we’ve had to adjust,” he said. “Students have their instruments at home and can play and record themselves, but they don’t get the benefit of being in a group setting. We’ve assigned scale skills, which already were part of our daily classroom routine, and some excerpts to keep the experience as similar as we can.”

To overcome those built-in obstacles, his students have access to a digital music archive – found and scanned over the years by Mr. Leeds.

“Currently, we have about 300 pieces scanned and accessible. With the digital music and a track to play along, students can record themselves playing their part with the rest of the ‘band,’” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to stitch these videos together to make a digital ‘band.’”

Mr. Leeds technical skills were on display recently when he played four instruments himself and recorded the OH fight song “Stand Up and Cheer.”

“It’s important to remember ‘We are <still> OH,’” he said, citing the title he gave of his Twitter-posted performance. “Our fight song is still in the hearts of our 2020 seniors, our athletes, our musicians, our teachers. Even though we can’t be in our school building, we can still embody Green Bear Nation. The OH paw print logo is painted inside of my garage – a reminder to myself that we are OH. I thought it was the best background I had to record the video.”

Mr. Leeds said his students already had great camaraderie – a byproduct of making music together throughout the year. So bonding virtually was a smaller adjustment. “Our first Google Meet with almost 60 students filled my heart and my screen,” Mr. Leeds said “Their esprit de corps is very evident!”

Still, the process of creating music is about face-to-face communication and relationships.

“Like most everyone in Ohio and across the country, they’re holding strong, but they want to get back to making music together. They also enjoy one another,” he said. “Our students love making music, period. That hour of the school day, carved out of a busy and AP-heavy course load, is a reprieve for many.”

For the younger Leeds, the stay-at-home order gives them more time with mom and dad and family pet, Minnie. It also puts a new spin on learning.

“You’re free to relax and be comfortable during class compared to sitting at a desk all day,” said Jeremiah. For Allison, the best part is more simple: “The quiet!”

Of course, there are downsides. Both miss being with their Elementary School friends and teachers (Jeremiah’s homeroom teacher is Cheri Palko; Allison’s is Kerstyn Weaver).

When not teaching, working, or studying, the Leeds are using the additional family time for puzzles and games, good food, and – obviously – good music. “We’ve also enjoyed some longer walks with Minnie, who has been so excited to have us home every day,” Mr. Leeds said.

Both children are looking forward to school reopening. Jeremiah wants to see everyone in person instead of just video. And Allison: “Seeing everyone in person and giving them hugs!”

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