Educator Spotlight: Seth Fewell
Former music educator connected students with astronauts to build cultural understanding
This story is part of a weekly series that celebrates outstanding teachers in our Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.
A few years ago as a music educator in South Houston, Texas, Seth Fewell piled his elementary students onto a school bus to drive them downtown.
For many of these kids, they hadn’t even left the neighborhood let alone a trip toward the bright lights and big city. They bounced along in their seats, leaning into the windows with stars in their eyes and glee in their bellies. Seth was giddy, too.
That afternoon, those students jumped off the bus and into an afternoon singing along with the Houston Symphony Orchestra at the Jones Hall for Performing Arts.
Seth has music notes etched into his bones. Throughout his entire childhood and adult life, he’s listened to music, performed in bands and sang with the best of the choirs, all to harmonize with the tune already in his head.
But it’s not enough to enjoy the music – for him, he wants others to feel the joy in it, too, so when he began teaching music at Pearl Hall Elementary, he helped to develop Building Cultural Bridges, an incredible program that advocated for cultural inclusion and connected students to their local symphonies and operas but also with musicians and fellow students singing together from all around the world.
Music was the connector, and Seth was one of the conductors at the helm.
“Music has changed my life,” says Seth, who first picked up a clarinet at nine years old and went on to sing as a tenor with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony Chorus as well as the Boston Symphony Orchestra and directing many church choirs. “I cannot get through a day without listening to music – I have a constant soundtrack playing in my head. For me, it is a coming-together place. Choir and music are my community.”
Performing with astronauts
Seth grew up in Alabama, where his father worked on the Space Shuttle Atlantis for over 30 years.
Along with music, the NASA community was his life, so when he wanted to make connections for Building Cultural Bridges, he began reaching out to over 100 well-known astronauts among over 20 different countries, all who took time to get on Skype calls or come in for assemblies to talk with the kids about how music influenced their professional careers.
“These astronauts would come to our school and the kids would just look at them like, ‘So, you’ve been in space!?’ ” Seth says. “We even partnered with Colonel Chris Hadfield and his brother, Dave, who wrote a couple songs for us and we performed with Chris while he was in space. It was a whole lot of fun.”
Today, Seth trains teachers as an educational technology specialist for elementary campuses in Pearland, Texas. When he first began teaching music, it was tech he turned to to invigorate both his students and his own teaching. Years later, he’s still cultivating his practice – first completing his master’s in technology and now finishing up his doctoral program in education.
“I’ve devoted myself entirely to this doctoral program, but that’s not where it stops,” Seth says. “I always dive into what I’m interested in. I believe you’ve got to keep pushing through! I spend countless hours making sure I know everything there is to know about topics I’m interested in. I’m a constant learner.”
Whether high up in space or on the ground in a neighborhood school in Texas, Seth sees music as the transcending bond among us all. For him, it’s a motivator in the learning – a comfort in the striving and a beauty in the work. His voice rejoices with the opportunity to teach others – in music, in tech, and in life.
“I’ve always had this outsider perspective on education, because I never expected to be here,” Seth says. “Music has had this presence my entire life, but now I also want to lead my district into becoming a truly world-class district. I just want to make it all a worthwhile experience for the students and the teachers.”