Carus Elementary students become songwriters
Musician Ellen Whyte is spending time with Carus students for her third time as their artist in residence.
According to Principal Sam Thompson, Carus Elementary has had the AiR program since he arrived in 2009, which was the year of Whyte's first residency at Carus. Whyte said Carus has been holding programs like this for 30 years.
In the past, the school has welcomed photographers, artists, musicians and more.
"We try to give kids experiences that they might not otherwise get by running the program," Thompson said.
Currently, Carus students in grades 1, 3 and 5 are working with Whyte every day for six weeks. Then for round 2, students in grades Kindergarten, 2 and 6 will have their turn.
"I pair academics with music, songwriting and performing," Whyte said.
"I research and develop the curriculum for each grade," she added. "The goal is to highlight historical events with the music, people, key events and stories."
First-graders are learning about being patriotic, which includes learning songs, symbols that represent the U.S., art projects and lessons on what it takes to be a good citizen.
Third-graders are learning about The Great Depression with an emphasis on the impact it had on children.
Fifth-graders are learning the history of jazz music.
Each class gets to collaborate with Whyte to write songs that they will perform for an audience on Dec. 18. Round 2 will perform Feb. 22.
But the performance is not the real end result, according to Whyte.
"The end result is what happens beyond the classroom," Whyte said. "Some students begin taking music lessons, while others explore theater or dance. Additionally, this is the kind of creative learning experience that inspires and touches those students who haven't had an opportunity to succeed in the classroom. I live for those moments."
Whyte's passion for music began when she was living in Florida and was just as young as the Carus students she now has the opportunity to teach.
"I loved music from the start," Whyte said. "My mom listened to big band music and would play it on our record player. My dad was from Ireland and played Irish music recordings. Dad introduced me to the accordion at six years old. That was the beginning of being schooled in reading music, playing and singing songs."
Her parents, who helped grow her love of music, both died when Whyte was still a child.
"My dad died when I was 10 and my mom passed when I was 15. I moved around some and lived in foster homes until I was 19," Whyte said. "All along, music was the centerpiece of my life during those difficult times."
She picked up the guitar at age 15 and hasn't put it down since.
After marrying and having two children with her first husband, Whyte moved to Oregon and has lived in Oregon City for many years now. She earned her Bachelor's in Criminal Justice from Portland State University and eventually ended up working at Clackamas County Social Services.
"I loved the work. It was closely related to my life as a single mom," Whyte said. "My caseload was mostly single parents. It was an opportunity to give back some things I learned along the way during those lean times."
It was during this time that she met her now husband John Mullin. The two have been married for 27 years and have together produced and released four award winning recordings.
Since Whyte's first residency at Carus in 2009, she has had 20 residencies. She has taught more than 3,000 students and collaborated with students writing more than 130 songs.
When Whyte isn't working as an artist in residence, she performs music with one of her four different sized bands. More information and dates for her upcoming shows can be found online at ellenwhyte.com.