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Tuesday, May 12, 2020 - 11:15am

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New York City public school teacher Jesse Means, M.S. ’03, believes so strongly in music as a tool for comfort and stability, he has created a virtual classroom which looks like a professionally produced television show. Amidst a pandemic, preschool and elementary school-aged students at P.S. 004 Duke Ellington School are discovering their music teacher, Mr. Means, is a modern-day version of Mister Rogers.

After the nationwide school closures began due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), Means was forced to shift his curriculum to online learning. Within days of the closures, Means tore apart his one-bedroom apartment to create a virtual classroom that rivaled any other. Already armed with a green screen, he began setting up a makeshift television studio. With his at-home video editing software, working late into the hours of the night, he began to create videos for his young students.

Uploading them to YouTube to allow easy access, he had one singular vision – that he would help restore a sense of normalcy for each child watching.

“Navigating this time is hard on everyone,” said Means. He reaches out daily to students and families via Google Classroom and feels fortunate to be teaching music to promote greater learning. “While I'm incorporating English Language Arts (ELA) and a bit of Mathematics in my assignments, I try not to make it a high-pressure moment in their remote learning experience,” Means explained.

Entertaining while educating his audiences of preschool, kindergarten, first and second grade students comes naturally to Means. In 2001, he pressed a pause button on a successful acting career, one that took him from multiple roles on Broadway through the late ‘90s to focus on music education. He started his teaching career just one week before 9/11 and was drawn to the profession out of a desire to act as a positive role model in his Washington Heights neighborhood.

With a renewed mission, Means found Mercy College to be the right fit for his continuing education after Broadway. He earned a master’s degree in what was then a new program offering: Educational Technology. Means appreciated the flexibility of Mercy’s program, which allowed him to still maintain the other aspects of his life as an artist, including auditions, all the while speeding toward completion of his graduate program in two years.

Today, Means navigates a maze of parent meetings over Google Classroom, adapted lesson plans and helping to soothe anxious young minds with songs often delivered against a colorful background of animated wonder. The changes in education delivery prompted by the pandemic have opened new discovery for his students.

He believes social distancing may have even opened a doorway for families to learn together. “Parents are seeing that they don't have to be the most highly educated or academically inclined to make a difference. It’s about building confidence,” he says.

Jesse

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