An Island of Creativity in a Sea of Crisis

by Jim Romenesko


When the going gets tough, Stephanie Kapsa, a music teacher in the Appleton Area School District, gets going.

When faced with what she describes as “the inequities caused by online learning” and frustrations felt when thrust into the world of online learning last spring due to the Covid crisis, she decided to take action.

In a normal, in-person learning situation, students use the school’s musical instruments. In an online learning situation, students can only access what they have at home. “For a lot of kids, it was very limited,” Kapsa said.

“As a music educator, I work hard to teach the kids that music can help them through the good and bad things in life,” she said. “With the world feeling chaotic and the amount of change going on, I felt music was more important now than ever before. I wanted all students to have a way to create music.”

She decided to get kits of musical instruments into the hands of the students. But how could she and her fellow instructors make this magic happen for every student in Kindergarten through Grade 6 in the district? “There were many, many individuals who came together to help us pull off this huge undertaking,” says Kapsa.  

“Renee Ulman, AASD Fine Arts Coordinator, secured funding through the district leadership team and school sites. Music teachers Jennifer Griffith, Melissa Fields, Kadie Smith, Becky O’Brien, and Wendy Pitts, collaborated on what the kits should have and how to put them together,” she said. All AASD general music teachers gave their input on the project.

Kapsa credits AASD and Ulman, in particular, for her support of the project and moving quickly to make the vision a reality. “Without them this would not have happened,” she said. 

Kapsa’s team enlisted an impressive range of community resources to bring the project to fruition.

Heid Music worked with vendors to secure the large quantity of instruments needed, offered affordable pricing, and delivered all instruments to local churches for assembly.

In what can aptly be described as a textbook example of cooperation, The Mission Church of Appleton and First English Lutheran Church offered workspaces.  Church members, music teachers, Lawrence music education student teachers, and Renee Ulman helped to put the kits together. The Community Church of Appleton delivered kits to each of the Elementary Schools.  

Overall, about one hundred volunteers assisted with the project. Kapsa’s own family was enlisted to help, as well.  Husband Nick, son Barrett, age 8, and daughter Reese, age 6, and even Nick’s mom, Becky, all pitched in. “Nick was made aware of the duties and responsibilities of being a music teacher’s spouse early on in our dating life,” she said, laughing. “The kids are now learning what their roles will be.” 

7,500 student received music kits and Kapsa and her colleagues are thrilled with the result. “So far, the kids have been over the moon about their music kits! I love seeing all the excitement and pride in playing their instruments,” she said. “Now our lessons can incorporate many of the things we would teach in person. I personally have had a blast rocking and rolling with the kiddos during our live meets every week.”