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‘Music is the universal language:’ Columbus teacher uses music to inspire students take risks

Music is the universal language. The strum of a guitar, the harmony of a choir, the bellows of a timpani erase linguistic lines and bring people together. Not many can deny the power music has to foster unity.

That’s why I envy music teachers, band directors and chorus teachers. Every day their jobs entail sharing music with often bitter, angry, lost, or isolated children who are starving for something to make them feel alive and a part of something greater than themselves. While all I have is Beowulf!

I jest. I’m not discounting literature’s similar magnetism, but music seems much better at attraction than reading, especially for kids. Every young person seems to have a pair of headphones attached to some sort of music box, while I venture to say most children are not carrying a book of poetry in their back pockets.

Many kids are, however, starving for attention and love, and although music makes the pain of loneliness go away temporarily, it can never mask the deep hurt some of our youngest citizens feel daily. Many students ride to school in the boys’ home minivan or the girls’ home station wagon. They enter our classrooms having slept the night before in unfamiliar beds in unfamiliar places.

Sometimes, though, when a lucky child gets a double dose – a dose of music plus a dose of love - all masks come off and the pain goes away. Occasionally, that same professional who chose a job like teaching, a job that places him on the front lines fighting against the weapons of the mistreatment of children, not only becomes the maestro of hope within the classroom, but a conductor of devotion outside the classroom as well.

That’s what David Hardegree at Allen Elementary School has done.

He has smothered his students with the joy and release music offers. Mr. Hardegree uses music to inspire children to take risks, learn life lessons, find confidence, and most importantly, enjoy a sense of belonging. The movement of black dots on lined paper represents, to him, the movement of a child from feeling lost to feeling found.

However, Mr. Hardegree doesn’t stop when the music stops. His devotion to kids doesn’t end when music class ends. Oh no; not at all. Just as he recognizes his love for music as an opportunity to speak life into his students, David and his wife see their bountiful blessings and full hearts as the chance to invest in the lives of kids outside the walls of Allen Elementary.

In 2014, the Hardegree family became foster parents, and their home became a place of hope, warmth, love, and solitude for nearly a dozen children.

Early January 2015, a young boy was placed with the Hardegrees. The little boy quickly captured the hearts of his foster parents and an undeniable bond was formed. As the system works, just a short year later, the boy was moved out of state to stay with family members and his three other siblings.

Granted, most families who volunteer to help raise the forgotten, the neglected, the abandoned realize the children are briefly passing through their homes on their way to the next stop in the foster care process. They realize they are a blip on a foster child’s lifeline.

But, thank God, most families who decide to foster a child embrace the opportunity, however brief it may be, to love a child like he’s never been loved before. And that’s what the Hardegrees did for this little boy. They invested and invested hard, and they loved and loved quickly. So, when the little boy was removed from their home, David and his wife were devastatingly sad, thinking they would never see the boy again.

Until he showed up at Allen Elementary almost three years later. Imagine the reunion.

Sure, not all of us will become foster parents. Most of us won’t become music teachers or fall in love with a little boy who isn’t our own. But all of us have a song in our hearts to share. We each have a tune of hope fluttering about in our minds that we can share with someone who needs a little joy in life. We might not be a David Hardegree, for sure, but we certainly can be the very best harmony-maker we can be in our own little ways.

Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbus. Email her at