Championed by Oberlin Conservatory and Juilliard School-educated Founder Linda Weise, the Colorado Springs Conservatory attracts and retains the nation’s finest arts educators. We have a deep and abiding respect for our faculty mentors and guest artists/lecturers who share with our students a gift for teaching and a deep passion for the arts. Our teaching method is student-centric, offering a balance of peer-coaching, teacher mentoring, and performance.
This month, we’d like to shine our spotlight on Dayna Cooper – Program Mentor · Early Childhood – Piccolo Program (Ages 0-3), Tiny Tremolo Program (Ages 4-5), Novice Program (Ages 6-7), A Positive Note – Special Needs Music Program | Special Education Teacher
Dayna, thank you for sharing a bit about your educational background, passion for music, early childhood education and special education, and your journey as a mentor at Colorado Springs Conservatory!
Where did you grow up, and were you interested in music at a young age?
I grew up in Gainesville, Florida and always loved music. I loved to sing. My dream was to be a Broadway star. I wanted to be a chorus girl like Fanny Brice.
Which instruments do you play? Do you have a favorite, and if so, why?
I had a couple of years of piano lessons as a child, but really got serious about music in middle school when I started playing the flute. In my high school marching band I played the flute and piccolo. As an adult, my favorite instrument to play is the ukulele. It’s super fun and really relaxing. I would love to keep learning new instruments!
You are a special education teacher with degrees from Fordham University and the University of Florida and a wealth of educational experience! Were you always interested in working with youth and special needs students?
Yes! I have been working with children for over 17 years and I’ve always known it’s what I wanted to do. Special Education in particular is my passion. I love to watch students set rigorous expectations for themselves and succeed. Teaching also involves a lot of problem solving, and I love finding new and different solutions to those problems.
You also co-directed an elementary school choir in New York City! What are some of your favorite memories/lessons learned from that experience?
As a choir director, I learned the importance of performance. There is something special about performing for an audience that can’t be replicated in the classroom. Watching my students take the spotlight and perform will always be one of the highlights of my job. My students got to sing the National Anthem at a Yankees game; that was pretty magical.
How long have you been a mentor at Colorado Springs Conservatory, and what is your favorite part of teaching?
I started working with the Conservatory in December of 2020. My favorite part of teaching at CSC is definitely all of my co-teachers. I have learned so much from all the other mentors here and am excited to continue learning more about teaching music. This team has so many incredible ideas and I love being a part of a community where everyone is willing to share!
Why do you believe music education is important for preschool/elementary school-aged children?
Music exposure and education is incredibly important for our youngest kids! Not only is music good for cognitive development, it has tons of social and emotional benefits as well. Each week the students are encouraged to say their name, walk around the circle, and wave to each of their friends. It’s amazing to watch students start the semester too nervous to say their names and end the semester introducing themselves and waving excitedly.
Tell us a little about the Piccolo, Tiny Tremolo and Novice programs you mentor! What kinds of lessons are involved? How much do you see the students grow/learn/progress through the different age level offerings?
It’s hard to overstate how much these kids change and how quickly. Each group of kids from 0-3, 4-5, 6-8 learns to express music in their own language. The littest kids use “tas” and “titis” while my oldest kids use “quarter notes” and “eighth notes,” but they are all learning to use those notes to create their own music. There are some aspects of class that are universal, like solfege, playing movement games, and practicing rhythm. The curriculum the early childhood team has developed is intended to create a clear instructional pathway to the bridge-to-core program.
Tell us a bit about your involvement with A Positive Note (APN) program at CSC. (What does the program entail? What’s the format? Why is this type of offering/curriculum important for special needs students?)
I started working with Jordy (Jorden Smith – non-profit organizer and mentor of A Positive Note) at APN this summer, and it has quickly become my favorite class! The class is an hour and a half of community building, music education, instrument exploration, and songwriting. Each week the group writes a new song, and I love watching how proud the students are when we finish! This class provides a community where students can feel safe making music without judgment and can try new things only the Conservatory can offer.
What are some of your fondest memories or experiences as a Program Mentor at CSC?
I have had so many wonderful experiences at CSC. My favorite moments are when students tell me “I can’t do it” and then they prove themselves wrong.
I also will never forget the time one of my tiny tremolo students was asked to play the “spider song” and instead gave a full performance of “This Is Halloween” from Nightmare Before Christmas on the piano. Hysterical! You never know what a student’s going to do when they sit down at the bench!
You, your husband and your son have a farm outside of Colorado Springs where you raise chickens! Please tell us about the farm.
Yes! We raise chickens, ducks, and pigs! There’s always a lot to do, but it’s tons of fun. My son, Chance, is only two but he is already a big help. He collects eggs, feeds and waters the animals, and waters the gardens. Chance’s favorite chore though is anything involving the tractor!
The idea behind the farm is called “regenerative agriculture.” We are using our animals to naturally till the earth and leave behind important nutrients in their manure in an effort to make the land suitable for farming again. Oh, and I keep bees! So many exciting things are happening right now. We’re expanding to sheep this spring!
What are your favorite things to do/places to visit in and around Colorado Springs?
My favorite place is definitely the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Where else can you feed a giraffe? My son and I go at least twice a month!
Who is your role model?
Barbra Streisand. Hands down, the best of all time.