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DeSoto Trail teacher drums up interest with mini steel pans

By: Amanda Karioth Thompson, COCA | May 30, 2018

Towards the end of the school year, teachers and students alike dream of a tropical summer vacation away from tests and grades. Randy Baez, music teacher at DeSoto Trail Elementary School, is in a Caribbean kind of mood and her second grade music students are too. They’ve started their trip a little early and, for the past several weeks, have been learning about steel drums.    

Baez received an Arts Education Grant from the Council on Culture & Arts. With the grant funds supplied by Kia of Tallahassee supplemented with a second grant from Envision Credit Union, she was able to develop a special unit focused on the music of the Caribbean.

“I got 24 mini-pans,” Baez said of the instruments she purchased. “They came straight from Trinidad and Tobago. I took a picture of the box they came in. It was amazing.” Though steel drum music, also known as pan music, is commonly associated with Trinidad, its origin point, it quickly spread to the neighboring islands including Puerto Rico.

Baez is from Puerto Rico so, for her, this lesson is personal. “At my wedding, we had a steel drum band. We had the salsa, the merengue and all that was played with the big steel drums. In class, we get the map out and we talk about where the Caribbean is. I point out the islands, including Puerto Rico and that I grew up there. That’s part of my culture and heritage and I wanted to share that with them.”

Baez enjoys sharing her personal history with her students and integrating social studies into her teaching. She chose to start this unit with her second graders because “one of the big units in their class is heritage and immigration. They are learning that we’re all from different places and that’s what makes the United States unique. Now we’re actually learning about that portion of the Caribbean that’s also part of our culture.”

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