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Senior Spotlight: Lindsey Walker inspires, educates at MHS

Lindsey Walker is giving new meaning to the term Student Teacher.

Walker, a senior at Monticello High School, has taken the initiative to lead a music program for special education classes at both the high school and middle school, as well as an after school music club for elementary students.

The idea was sparked when Walker, who has long been passionate about music, joined the high school’s Unified club (an inclusive group that brings students of all abilities together to build relationships and have fun). She loved the club from the start, but realized there might be a window to do even more for her peers.

“I started to notice a gap between the two things I love,” said Walker, in reference to music and working with students with special needs.

Walker immediately started reaching out to educators at the high school, including Unified’s Annie Emmanuel and Choir Director Nathan Herfindahl, asking how they could work together to fill this gap.

Walker said what happened next was really special.

“Honestly, the whole school came together,” she said, noting that she received support and help from places as varied as the MHS tech coordinator and woodshop teacher, and many others in between.

Last year, Walker started teaching music to three of the four special education classes at the high school. This year she is teaching all four high school classes in addition to middle school classes, and the elementary program. She operates like every other student for the first four periods of the day, before putting her teacher hat on for periods 5, 6, and 7 every day, rotating between the high school and middle school to bring music education to students who previously didn’t have the opportunity available to them. 

In an email to high school staff, Assistant Principal John Reeves lauded the program that Walker has founded at the school and the impact she is having.

“Lindsey is a servant leader who has devoted many hours of preparation to this program and has been amazing at communicating with students and teachers,” said Reeves. “Her passion for this project is apparent to everyone involved and we are grateful for the work she is doing in promoting a culture of tolerance and respect.”

Walker is quick to give credit to the many who have helped make this program a reality. That includes Herfindahl, who has been interested in starting a program like this for some time, and is working to sustain it after Walker graduates, as well as many friends and classmates who have inspired and helped, including Jamie Forstie, Nicole Wurm, Cat Terres, and Heather Bruley.

“They’ve all been a huge help,” said Walker. “And it’s been really fun to see that student leadership.”

Walker also noted that she has gathered inspiration from a number of other sources, starting with her mother (“She taught me how to love,”) and continuing with many of the educators she’s come across during her years in Monticello.

“Looking at the school district, to me, it’s like ‘who hasn’t inspired me?’” Said Walker. “You see the ladies in the office and how hard they work, you see the paras and the teachers and the staff … everyone here is so committed to making such a good school culture and providing that foundation for all of us. Honestly, I am blown away by so many people.”

Recently it’s been the senior’s turn to blow people away, not just by her selfless attitude and dedication to giving back, but with how seamlessly she’s turned herself into a phenomenal educator.

Walker, who is a standout musician herself (excelling at piano, singing, and percussion), said she’s essentially learned how to teach on the fly. 

“You just have to know what questions to ask,” she said. “I have a lot of great resources, including my family. You just kind of take it a day at a time. Some days I just show up and we figure out what we’re doing right then and there. And it’s been so much fun.”

A regular class period for Walker’s students starts with a sensory obstacle course to get the students moving and ready to learn. Following that, they return to the classroom for a welcoming hello song, then the activity/lesson of the day. The first week of class this year, students were working on colors in sign language and performing a song to go with it.

Walker said one of the highlights is just allowing the students the chance to interact in a group, and giving them 30 to 45 minutes where they can engage and learn together. And what’s really been spectacular has been the opportunity to introduce some students to creating music for the first time. 

“In one of the classes, a lot of the students are in wheelchairs and have limited verbal responses and communication,” said Walker, who lights up anytime she’s discussing her students. “We got them on pianos last year and they loved it. And we had one student in particular … at first we kind of helped her play, hand over hand. She just lit up. She loved it. She said, in sign language, ‘more, more.’ We got her to realize that she was the one making that sound and we encouraged her ‘you do more.’ She just loved it. That was such a magical moment.”

Walker’s help in creating those magical moments for so many students across the district has left many, including her mentors, in awe.

“Lindsey does so much that goes unseen as well,” noted Herfindahl, about his standout student. “We say on a daily basis that we as a species do not deserve Lindsey Walker.”

Walker is still deciding where she’ll attend college next year, but the past two years have solidified the path she wants to pursue there.

“I’ve fallen in love with this, so I’m looking at majoring in music therapy or something similar,” said Walker. “Something that allows me to bring music to this community on a higher level.”

***Walker and the MHS music teachers are hoping to put together a performance for her students later this school year. Monticello School District will post information about that performance when it becomes available. Walker is also looking to fundraise this year to provide additional equipment to the students and so that this program will be sustainable even after she graduates. If interested in donating to this venture, please contact the Monticello High School Office.