December 18, 2012
By Molly Beck
It turns out that strumming a banjo is a quick way to calm a crowd of kindergartners.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon found that out Tuesday, when she warmed up her five strings while students filled the gymnasium at Lee School.
Simon visited Lee to perform for a student assembly at the request of music teacher Mary von Liski, who had seen state’s second-in-command play banjo on television and decided “on a whim” to contact Simon. That request turned into an schoolwide assembly.
“(Simon) acts as the governor’s point person for education reform,” principal Nathan Kochanowski said to the students before Simon began her performance. “Which is why she’s here — she loves school.”
Simon first answered a few questions about her job, describing her role to the elementary students as similar to that of a substitute teacher — filling in for Gov. Pat Quinn when he is unavailable.
Two students also asked Simon to confirm their belief that the banjo comes from “back in the old days,” but she added that it originated specifically in Africa.
Then the music got the students on their feet. They twisted and danced to “La Bamba” and sang along with Simon to their favorites “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”
“It was very cool,” said fifth-grader Marilyn Reid, who said she enjoys singing. “I think it’s very cool to see someone that’s very important to our state.”
Simon said she has been playing banjo since she was in law school, because she was “always a failure at guitar.” Her liveliest crowds have consistently been children, she said.
“I’m also a big advocate for arts in education,” Simon said. “You need to make sure we do our reading, math and (other studies), but the arts put it all together.”