Thompson School of Applied Science student Brian Hunter ’17 never thought his future might include becoming a teacher. Then his capstone project for his associate’s degree in community leadership led him to a very specific need in one Granite State high school.
After two months working with special education students, Hunter will present his capstone project, “The Passion in Music: Bringing Back Music Therapy to Raymond High School” as part of the 18th Annual Undergraduate Research Conference.
Hunter became involved with Raymond High School’s special education program through his sister, Megan Hunter ’13, ‘15G, a speech pathologist for the district.
When he learned about the loss of a music program for special education students, Hunter saw a way to use his passion for music to help others.
“It’s so detrimental to take away arts education. We lose so many opportunities if we are not exposed to music and the arts,” he says.
Hunter explains he is a drummer and plays with local band Northern Lights and was accepted to Berklee College of Music in 2011.
“I’ve been involved with music my entire life," he says. "It broke my heart when I found out they were losing it.”
Hunter began working with about a half-dozen special education students in Raymond back in February. Visiting during a portion of the daily schedule known as “wrap time,” which is similar to homeroom or team meeting time in other schools, Hunter and the students grab chairs and make a circle before he hands out percussion instruments such as shakers and "boomwhackers," which are long, stick-like instruments struck against the floor to make rhythm, and then leads the group in games and activities on the master drum.
It was difficult at first, he says, as he worried about making connections with the students and helping them feel comfortable while also knowing he was being observed by seasoned professional educators in the classroom.
Working together on music changed all that, Hunter says.
“Music is what brings us together,” he explains. “Sometimes I don’t realize the impact it’s having, and then I see their reactions. It reminds me of how I fell in love with music for the first time.”
Hunter’s advisor, Tim Barretto, professor and program chair of community leadership, describes Hunter’s work as just what an advisor hopes to see happen in a capstone project.
“One of the things leaders need to bring with them is passion,” Barretto says. “Brian brings that passion into the classroom. I’ve been thrilled because Brian has tapped into what he is really passionate about and made it meaningful to other people. What more could we want from a project than that?”
Hunter adds, “If I’m not excited about it, how would they be?”
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And working off-campus with actual high school students in their school setting has taught Hunter some lessons he did not expect.
“You can always be a friend and be an influencer and someone who cares,” he says. The Raymond students were able to continue having access to music classes because of one volunteer from UNH, he explains. “They were about to lose access to music, and all it took was a person they don’t even know to take the time to make sure that didn’t happen.”
So what comes next?
Hunter plans to continue the journey and is considering pursuing his bachelor’s degree at UNH and working toward a career that melds his love of music with helping others, thanks in a large part to his experiences working with six remarkable students at Raymond High School. “I never thought I would be a teacher,” he says, “and now I’m Mr. Hunter.”