The challenges at Bicentennial School in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia are nothing to sniff at. As a K-9 school, the music teacher needs to harness a broad range of pedagogical expertise and technique to deliver appropriate programming to such a wide range of ages and experiences. The student body includes a high number of students who might be considered challenging. Nicholas Pettipas has not only risen to that challenge, but has also set out to make music programming at Bicentennial a safe harbour for students of all ages.
Pettipas describes his teaching philosophy as being “based on three fundamental beliefs. I believe that my students need to feel challenged. I believe they need to feel cared for. I believe students’ creativity needs to be fostered.”
One of Pettipas’ strengths is identifying – and closing – gaps in programming. Upon noticing a disconnect in existing curricula and the experiences of Black students, Pettipas engaged in curriculum development with the African Nova Scotian Music Association to ensure that meaningful content was available for all students to benefit from. Pettipas also noticed a dip in engagement with junior high students, and successfully outfitted a recording studio to sustain the appeal of music class. Across curricula, he incorporated Mi’kmaq heritage into his second grade music classes, discussing the historical use of animal skins to create not only warm apparel, but musical instruments.
This careful mix of cultivating creativity and safety has a larger payoff outside the music room. As Pettipas describes, “a teacher who values creativity in their classroom will put as much stock into wrong answers as they do in right ones. Teaching should allow students to move forward creatively from challenges they have faced. When creativity is embedded in a school’s culture, students feel free to be creative in all subject matters.”
Pettipas is no stranger to accolades: this is his third year as a MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award nominee, and students in Bicentennial’s music program won the CBC Music Class Challenge in 2016 for their performance of Coleman Hell’s song “2 Heads”.
Nicholas Pettipas is one of five nominees for the MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award, presented by the Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation. The winner will be announced at the 50th JUNO Awards in May, and will receive a JUNO statuette, a $10,000 prize, and a sizable grant for the music program at their school.