Welcome to CA, Mrs. B!

Fifth graders have a lot of energy. Fortunately for Colorado Academy, so does Lower School Music Teacher Brenda Bartel.

Visit Bartel’s classroom in the Schotters Music Center on a warm spring afternoon, and here’s what you might see—her students singing in Czech, playing recorders and xylophones, creating body percussion with their hands and feet, and keeping time with Bartel on the drums. The class is a symphony of 10-year-olds’ musical collaboration, and at the center of it all, Bartel reigns, a serene conductor of this energetic and engaged group.

“My goal is that kids walk out of the classroom experiencing joy through music,” Bartel says. “I love music, and my hope is that students will love it, too.”

‘A good time to help others’

Bartel’s journey to her first year of teaching at CA is long, varied, and breathtaking in her breadth of experience. It includes stops in Kansas, Haiti, Oregon, Bolivia, Denver, Jefferson County, and a stint as a collegiate “First Lady.”

After graduating from Bethel College, a liberal arts school in North Newton, Kan., which is affiliated with the Mennonite Church, Bartel and her husband headed straight to Haiti to do volunteer development in the country. “My husband and I come from families that value service,” Bartel says. “We were just out of college, had not yet launched our careers, and it seemed like a good time to help others.”

For the next three years, she worked as a health educator, becoming fluent in Haitian Creole. She put health instructions into songs, which she can still sing today—just ask her. After returning from Haiti, she taught elementary school music in Salem, Ore., while her husband went to law school. In the early 1990s, she and her husband moved to Denver where she coached Destination Imagination and, using her language skills, worked as a translator to help an influx of Haitian refugees fleeing their homeland.

In 1998, with two elementary-age children, she and her husband moved to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where she learned Spanish and worked in urban development and with street children on behalf of the Mennonite Central Committee. Five years later, the family moved to Denver, and Bartel returned to teaching music in Denver Public Schools. But her life took yet another turn, and she found herself back at Bethel College when her husband became the school’s president. Even as the college’s “First Lady,” she continued teaching music and directed one of the many children’s choirs she has been involved with. Four years later, she returned to Colorado to teach in Jefferson County and work with the Evergreen Children’s Chorale.

‘We need all your voices’

Clearly, as Bartel finishes her “rookie” year at CA, she is not a novice. Her praise of CA’s music program—calling it “very strong”—is based on many years of experience in music education.

“CA students are so open, they are eager to learn, and they love to sing,” she says. “It’s amazing what we have been doing together.” She emphasizes to her students that, as a musical group, they are a team just like an athletic team on the field, and therefore, everyone’s contribution is important. Her message to students is inclusive: “We need all your voices.”

She also likes the collaborative professional environment she has found at CA, and she appreciates the “culture of kindness” that permeates interactions at the school. “Students walk out of my class and say ‘Thank you Mrs. B, and have a great day,’” she says. “That makes me want to push even harder to be a better teacher, because I feel appreciated.”