Learning Classics While Building Confidence

Posted by Lori Villarreal on 1/6/2021

students performing on stage

Since joining Hartman Elementary in 2012, Erin Parker-Atkins has had one mission: build her students’ confidence through the power of performance. Having seen the power of music since she was a kid, Parker-Atkins knew she was destined to share her passion for it with the next generation.

 Parker-Atkins grew up in a tiny town in West Texas and her backyard backed up to the local high school’s football field. Her dad was the band director and spent every night of the week practicing with the band on the field. Most nights, Parker-Atkins would hop the fence and watch rehearsals, witnessing the impact her dad was having on his students. Before she was even 10 years old, she knew she wanted to be a band director too.

 While in school and student teaching high school band, Parker-Atkins realized she needed more flexibility and time with her two young sons. Her mentor, Susan Brumfield, a Professor of Music Education at Texas Tech University and a well-known textbook author, recommended she take a music teacher position at an elementary school. Upon starting her elementary career, Parker-Atkins knew this is exactly what she was meant to do.

 When joining Hartman and Wylie ISD as a Music Specialist, Parker-Atkins knew this was a special environment. “This place is completely different than any other district you’ll ever find,” said Parker-Atkins. “I tell people all the time now that I’ll leave Hartman and Wylie ISD when I’m dead.”

 After a couple of years with the district, Parker-Atkins, an avid reader, found scripts for musicals based on classic literature and applied for a grant from the Wylie ISD Education Foundation to help her bring classic books to life. Her first grant funded a full production of “No Strings Attached”.  An adaptation of the classic story of Pinocchio, Hartman Music’s first grant included all the materials needed for the set design, costumes, high-quality sound equipment, and so much more. Parker-Atkins, with grants from the Foundation, has brought stories we all know and love to life through musicals including not only Pinocchio, but also Treasure Island, Oliver Twist, and Hartman’s latest literary adaptation. 

In 2019, Parker-Atkins received a grant from the Foundation to put on a full production of Tom Sawyer. Her third graders would learn the classic story through a musical adaptation. However, this program extends beyond just building a student’s knowledge and reading skills. It was designed to build their confidence.

Prior to the preparations and rehearsals of the musical, Parker-Atkins asked her students if they described themselves as confident and/or if they thought they had good self-esteem. Just 54.32 percent of her third graders said yes. After the production, 82.46 percent of students reported they were more confident now than they were before the performance – a significant increase to show the impact this program has on students’ lives.

While all of Parker-Atkins’ students report the musical does help build their confidence, this particular group of third graders truly stepped up and acted like the professionals they were never expected to be. Near the end of preparations for Tom Sawyer, Parker-Atkins’ dad, the person who inspired her career, hopes and dreams, unexpectedly passed away. With the help of a close friend and Wylie ISD substitute, Susan Shuler, the students continued to prepare for the Tom Sawyer musical, memorizing their lines and songs while Parker-Atkins was out for four weeks. Although their performance date was delayed by a month, these students showed up each and every day excited to keep rehearsing and perfecting the Tom Sawyer musical. Why? Because the performance mattered to them. They were just as invested as Parker-Atkins was.

“This particular group of kids, my Tom Sawyer kids, they will mean more to me, forever, than they understand.  Children, so often, do not understand that they are our reason for doing, but these kids truly are,” said Parker-Atkins. “What I do at Hartman is totally different than what everyone else does by a typical elementary standard, but my kids are worth it. If I don’t have a grant, then I pay out of my own pocket or we reuse materials we already have. With funding from the Foundation, we can create fun and engaging experiences for our students. I am so grateful for the Education Foundation and the opportunities they’ve given us.”

Written by Beth Rose, friend of the Foundation.