As Director of Education for the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, Liz Youker has been instrumental (no pun intended) in helping to establish Kids in Tune (KIT)—a partnership between Kalamazoo Public Schools, Communities In Schools, and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra—at Woods Lake Elementary School: A Magnet Center for the Arts. Deb Faling, CIS Director of Social Emotional Initiatives credits Liz’s steady and supportive presence with helping to imbed KIT within the school culture. “Liz is the heart and soul of KIT,” Deb says. “Without her, the program would literally not exist. Her thoughtfulness, her vision, her warmth and her work ethic helped to bring this program to Kalamazoo and to the very lucky students of the CIS after school program at Woods Lake.”
Over tasty tea and coffee at Caffé Casa, I sprung our pop quiz on Liz. She didn’t miss a beat. (Pun intended.) See how she did and then check out Rhino Media’s brand new video about Kids in Tune.
What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?
I’m so focused on KIT…..let’s see…I love to cook, so a lot of my learning is happening in the kitchen these days. Over the summer I learned how to make yogurt. The process is simple, and once you get the hang of it there are limitless variations. It would be a money saver too, aside from the few batches that don’t turn out so well and nobody will eat… Next I’m going to try homemade mozzarella.
What are you currently reading?
I have two little ones so I’m reading a lot of children’s book. Mostly fairy tales. And I’m reading the same books over and over again.
What’s your favorite fairy tale?
My daughter’s favorite is Hansel and Gretel. She’s four years old and really enjoying fairy tales. I thought they might be too scary for her but she is into scary-spooky things right now. Reading these tales is helping my daughter explore her world a little more; concepts like dark and light, good and bad, how people can be nice and mean all at the same time. And these stories all have a resolution at the end that wraps things up.
Your comments remind me of a book I read a while back called Psychological Immunity. The premise being much like you are talking about, that it is by reading fairy tales to our children that parents help build resiliency, innoculating children to the darkness that exists in the world. If you weren’t reading fairytales all the time, what would you be reading?
I’d be going back over the classic literature that I absorbed quickly in college but didn’t have the luxury of delving into more deeply at the time—they say education is wasted on the young. I’m at a point in my life when I’d love to go back and re-do those college courses that I flew through.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I think about this a lot. I’m in a very administrative role with my work at the Kalamazoo Symphony. But coming from a long line of teachers, I feel like the natural evolution of things is to finally become a teacher after all these accumulated experiences. I admire teachers. I observe such impressive teaching on a daily basis, at Woods Lake and with the preschool teachers working with my own kids. So, perhaps my destination is to become a teacher. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll start over some day and learn to sing harmony in a blue grass band.
What is your favorite word right now?
I’ve never heard of that term before.
It’s an interesting word, meaning something like: playing dress up or where you actas if you are before you become that something. Play the part and then you become it. This is of interest to me because of my work with Kids in Tune. We want the kids to consider themselves to be a musician, to be part of an orchestra before they are actually performing at that level. Act as an orchestra until you become one. We are helping kids seriously adopt an identity and a role that they can grow into over time.
If I can pick two, my other favorite word is “iterative,” which means a process where you circle back to the beginning often, picking up more each time. With every repetition or iteration you learn something new, it brings you to a new level of understanding. It’s another part of our approach at Kids in Tune—to play Beethoven’s 9th at the beginning, but to keep coming back to it periodically to experience it with a new level of understanding. So I have two favorite words right now, but they are related.
Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?
What has been on my mind? Let’s see…The importance of assuming and expecting the best of others. At Kids in Tune we have high standards for the students. It’s important that we all have not just an expectation of excellence, but an assurance, a positive attitude that accompanies the expectation. The students know we believe in them and that they can achieve what we expect them to achieve. So the way in which we support students is important. We must know, believe and expect that they will rise to the challenges presented them. As supporters of these students, we must not come from a place of doubt.
You’re a pretty deep person.
(Liz just smiles, laughs lightly.)
Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?
I’ve been fortunate to have lots of them. So when I think back on that somebody who, in retrospect, made a bigger impact on me than I realized at the time, I’d say it was my fifth grade teacher, Carol Mitchell. She knew that we were dealing with an illness, my mom was going through chemotherapy and she offered to take me out one afternoon. She took me to a museum—it had a dinosaur exhibit— and dinner. I still remember the outing and what I ordered. She might have invited me under the premise that it was a reward for good work at school….looking back I know that she realized I was a student who was in a difficult place, going through things at home. She took time out of her weekend, going above and beyond to help a student. She made me feel special and gave me confidence. She offered me an experience I might not have otherwise had.