October 2017 Winner - Bob Meng:(T.J. Harris Upper and Lower elementary)


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Meridian Star Article

When Bob Meng teaches music, tiny sounds become noticeable.

As he worked with second-graders on a recent morning, he led student through some rhythmic singing, slicing syllables such as "ta" from longer words to help students practice.

It's that sort of attentive spirit that helped Meng to win the Golden Apple Award for October. He was honored in a surprise ceremony on Oct. 12.

Meng is in his 12th year of teaching, and his eighth year teaching in the United States. He arrived in the United States about eight years ago, having already taught four years to middle-school-aged children in China.

Meng is a singer, and he said his artistic inclinations were fostered by his parents as he grew up in Suzhou, China.

"My mom loves music, and my dad is a retired local artist," Meng said. "You could say they were my inspiration when I was little."

Meng teaches students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade at T. J. Harris Upper and Lower elementary schools in Meridian. He's earned bachelor's and master's degrees in music education, with the master's degree coming from Mississippi College in Clinton.

Meng's approach to teaching, as he described it shortly after the awards ceremony earlier this month, involves letting the music in his classroom curl around and envelop other subjects.

"Sometimes I will say, ‘I have this story I can tell,'" he said, "or, ‘I have this secret I can tell. Oh — by the way, there is a song about this story...'"

Meng noted a kind of intersection between the writing students might read and the music they might sing or perform.

"Songs, lyrics, they are a type of literature," he said. "They have rhyming words. And generally speaking, if kids are having a hard time keeping a steady beat, the kids will have problems with reading."

He described reading as a kind of music, demanding the sorts of skills that can be cultivated by practicing music as it's more conventionally defined.

"When you read, you incorporate a rhythm," he said, noting that punctuation can create a certain texture within a sentence.

Meng's way of connecting with students goes beyond the subject matter. He's developed a reputation for carrying around stickers — smiley faces, for instance — to acknowledge students' good behavior.

"A sticker works like magic from kindergarten to high school," he said. "They will do anything for a sticker on their forehead. Whenever I caught a kid being nice, being responsible or being safe ... I would call (the student) up and put a sticker on their forehead. If one sticker is all that it takes, why not?"

Shea Thrash, a pre-kindergarten teacher at T.J. Harris Lower Elementary School, is the teacher who nominated Meng. She shares Meng's younger students, and so she can tell how excited they are when they come from his class.

"They mentioned that he puts the sticker in the middle of their forehead, and they love that," Thrash said. "But they only get it if they earn it. So if they come back and they don't have a sticker, they're genuinely upset about it."

Thrash said the students sometimes come into class singing songs from Meng's sessions. The rhythm of learning a word such as "giraffe," she said, drifts from his class into hers.

Jennifer DuPont, the principal of T.J. Harris, underlined the way students work on many subjects, through the window of music, in Meng's class. She also noted the way he relates to the children.

"He integrates other subjects into music, so he does some storytelling and he does some math," DuPont said. "He gets down on the floor with the kids; he's on their level."

And the interaction, DuPont said, begins before students even arrive in Meng's class.

"First thing in the morning, he greets students in the car," she said. "He opens the car door for students, and they love to see his smile."