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From Australia with Music

Music teachers visit Crestwood Elementary, bringing songs and stories of Australia.

The six teachers came from the Land Down Under without their Vegemite but carrying stories of what it's like to be a music teacher in Australia.

On Monday, Dec. 11, Crestwood Elementary opened its doors to Su and Peter King, Emma Lizzi, Joelle Khalife and Vicki and Lawrence Jacks, music teachers and professors from Australia who will spend this week visiting a handful of schools in Fairfax County to discuss the difference in music education between the U.S. and their home country.

Vicki Jacks said the whole trip started as a sort of dare.

"I told my principal that we should make the most of the extra week we had off before our summer break this year by taking a trip to America," said Jacks. "She said if I could arrange the trip, go ahead."

Jacks wrote a short piece for the Music Educators National Conference magazine, detailing her plan to bring Aussie educators to the U.S. to attend an international music educators conference in Chicago, scheduled for later this week.

While browsing through the magazine, Crestwood music teacher Debra Lindsay was looking for a review of her own recently-published book when she spotted Jacks' letter. She sent Jacks an e-mail and the next day, Jacks had her travel plans in motion.

In total, 13 teachers from Australia have visited Crestwood and Haycock Elementary and McLean High schools, hearing performances and showing students what schools look like in Perth and Sydney. The teachers are staying with Fairfax County teachers until Wednesday morning, when they take a tour of the White House and then fly out to Chicago for their conference.

"How could they come to America and not visit (one of the) largest school systems in the nation?" Lindsay asked. "It's been delightful."

JACKS AND HER colleagues started Monday morning with an appearance on the Crestwood morning news show, followed by a performance by the school's chorus. Students sang and played a handful of songs on recorders while the teachers danced along.

As a thank you to the children, the teachers performed one of their nation's most recognizable tunes, "Waltzing Matilda."

"It's good to see what the background is like for elementary school students," said Su King. "I'm most impressed with the hospitality we've received from the people who've been willing to welcome strangers into their homes. It's really confusing to come into a city where you don't know anyone or anything."

King said she was looking forward to her tour of Washington, D.C. and was eager to take photos of the monuments.

Lawrence Jacks said the cultural exchange extended two-ways, as they were educating the students about Australia while learning about how the students are taught music.

"Coming to another school environment is a positive thing for any teacher," he said. "Hopefully the students will be able to learn new ideas as time progresses, but it's hard when they start with nothing. These children are very impressive."

Peter King said it was good for the students to have a chance to learn about Australia, other than what they've heard from the late Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin.

"Australia's a rich place visit and see, there's a wonderful indigenous culture that is gaining a stronger and stronger voice, much like the Native Americans here," Lawrence Jacks added.

BOTH MEN SAID they were pleasantly surprised to see little difference between how they taught children in Australia and Lindsay's program at Crestwood.

"Deb said most of these children had no musical background whatsoever, and this shows that music can resonate with children quickly," Lawrence Jacks said.

After showing a brief DVD presentation with photos of landmarks and schools in Sydney and Perth, the teachers took some questions from students, ranging from their favorite instruments to the number of boomerangs they had at home.

"We have an extensive music program at my school but music doesn't make it into a lot of elementary schools," said Joelle Khalife. "We have it because we're a K-12 school."

In addition, each state in Australia has its own regulations and requirements for education, so no uniform standards of what's taught exist, added Vicki Jacks.

Lindsay said she jumped at the chance to bring the Australian teachers over to show her students, many of whom were not born in the U.S., that it's all right to be from somewhere else.

"It's nice for them to see that music comes from all around the world," she said. "They'll hear music for the rest of their lives. It's the best way to communicate with other people, regardless of if you speak the same language, without saying a thing."