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The Voice of the Black Community

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Diva in the classroom
Classical singer makes impression at Hidden Valley
 
Published Wednesday, November 27, 2013 6:07 am
by Herbert L. White

Christa Shephard’s voice has taken her to Carnegie Hall and the White House.

Her passion led her to Hidden Valley Elementary School.

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PHOTO/JON STRAYHORN
Christa Shephard (center) leads a music class at Hidden Valley Elementary School last week. Shephard, a 2012 N.C. A&T State University graduate, is a trained opera singer who has performed at Carnegie Hall and the White House. Teaching, she says, is in keeping with her family’s choice of profession.

Shepard, a first-year music teacher, is immersed in her job. Classes gravitate around voice and instruments, and even attendance is confirmed with a song. 

“Where is Justin? Where is Justin?” she calls to second-graders with the strains of “Frere Jacques,” a French nursery rhyme.

“I’m right here. I’m right here,” is the response.

“Honestly, it’s like a gateway for me,” says Shephard, a 2012 graduate of N.C. A&T State University. “When words fail, music speaks through me and that’s something I teach the children. I always tell kids you can express yourself through music instead of lashing out. Use it as a gateway.”

It’s worked for Shephard, who has trained in classical music since childhood in her native Detroit. She studied at Detroit School of the Arts and majored in voice at A&T. Her professional gigs include performing at Carnegie and for President Barack Obama as a soloist in an ensemble. Yet teaching has always been Shephard’s aspiration – mostly because of relatives.

“My mom, grandmoms, uncles, aunts, grandfather, great-grandmother” were teachers, she said. “Everyone other than my dad. My dad went into business. My mom taught special (education). I have a lot of English teachers and I have professors in my family.”

Shephard’s impact in the classroom has been immediate, Hidden Valley Principal Tisha Greene said, noting her emphasis on participation and connecting music education to academic achievement resonates with students. 

“I think she’s fitting in great,” Greene said. “I think the students are enjoying her. I think she’s doing a great job. She just has a great way with kids. She knows how to get kids to really enjoy music and see music more than a hobby for them.”

Shephard also connects with students on a personal level. 

Hidden Valley, which enrolls 956 students, is 50 percent African American and 45 percent Hispanic, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools data. It’s a Title I school where 97.3 percent of students were economically disadvantaged in 2012, qualifying them for free or reduced lunch. 

As the child of a single mother, she understands how a family’s economic struggles impact kids. That’s why she makes a point of inspiring students to reach beyond their circumstances – a lesson she learned at home.

“I don’t let anyone sit in my class and do nothing,” Shephard said. “Always try your best – you never know what potential you have in a particular area unless you give it your 100 percent best.”

Said Greene: “She’s able to engage students in the classroom. We have really, really enjoyed having her here. She’s wonderful.”

Shephard aims to balance singing and teaching in the future with a goal of becoming a college professor. But while she’s paying her classroom dues, Hidden Valley has provided motivation as well as experience. 

 “I love what I do here and I can’t see myself being anywhere else, honestly,” she said. “I plan on performing for the rest of my life. Whether or not that’s my primary source of income, that’s up to God. I’ll let him lead me and guide me, but I know for sure teaching is my calling.”

 

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