Junior teaches piano to children

As her class of eager pupils files into her classroom, she instantly senses their longing to tap the inviting black and ivory keys gleaming atop the well-used piano.  With her lesson plan in mind, Ariela Cohen ’09 anticipates the ways in which she can help them create music. 

The chatter dies down, and she must forget the stress of being a high school junior, assume her role as “Ms. A” and begin to review last week’s lessons with the enthusiastic musicians.
Every Tuesday from 3 p.m. to 4:15 p.m., Cohen teaches piano lessons at an after-school program called LA’s Best at Coldwater Canyon Elementary School. 

“It is a program for kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford after-school activities,” she said.

These children have the opportunity to sign up for various classes such as dance, theater, football and piano.

Cohen started volunteering this year, taking over for Leah Charlesworth ’07 after she graduated last June. 

Although she has taken piano lessons for eight years, this is Cohen’s first experience teaching piano. 

“As I am teaching, I have flashbacks to my own lessons and my teacher’s kind demeanor,” Cohen said.  “She made piano seem friendly.”

As the sole teacher of the class and one of the only student teachers in the after-school program, Cohen utilized her old piano theory and technique books to craft a lesson plan.  Cohen has set goals for her students to meet by the end of the year. 

“I would like the kids to be able to take the most basic piece of music and be able to read it alone, have a better sense of musicality and the basic ability to express music if they want to,” she said. 

The majority of the 12 third, fourth and fifth graders in her class have never taken a music class before, so they begin at the most basic level, “learning rhythms, keys, high tones and low tones and rote pieces such as ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ and ‘Hot Cross Buns,’” Cohen said.  “The idea of playing an instrument is exciting for them, and they wanted to touch the keys immediately.”

The classroom is only equipped with one piano, so Cohen is limited in the material she can cover while they wait to receive keyboards for all the students.  For now, the children each wait in line for their turn to play the piano, which does not allow enough time to learn full pieces. 

“It’s a little difficult because they get bored easily and sometimes they start to get a little rowdy,” Cohen said. “They like playing outdoors and it is difficult to be confined to a classroom.”

On her first day of teaching, she was impressed by the “level of respect” the students had for her, she said. 

Even though all of the children are Hispanic and Cohen herself is a native Spanish speaker, she communicates in English with the children.  

 “I don’t look like them and they just associate me with English, but they know I speak Spanish,” she said.  “They all speak English well.”

Cohen is not only sharing her knowledge with these children, but she also gains something from the experience.

 “I am able to see something develop in front of my eyes that I have control over,” she said.  “It helps me be a leader in a sense.It’s a cool thing to teach others something you know.”