Tue | Dec 1, 2020

Science class gets bubbly formula - Dancing Denbigh High teacher becomes Internet celebrity

Published:Saturday | November 30, 2019 | 12:39 AMJudana Murphy and Ricardo Makyn/Gleaner Writers
Teacher Elvy Soltau hangs out with some of her students at Denbigh High School’s jeans day in Clarendon yesterday.
Teacher Elvy Soltau hangs out with some of her students at Denbigh High School’s jeans day in Clarendon yesterday.

Pour in one-part Miss Lou, two-parts dancing, and mix in an uptempo soundtrack, science class experiments have never been more bubbly at Denbigh High School.

That’s the formula concocted by 26-year-old Elvy Soltau, who has transformed her integrated science and human and social biology classes into a cocktail of creativity.

Soltau, a rookie teacher of 19 months, has become an Internet sensation locally after a video of her, garbed in an African-print dress, went viral this week as she played conductor to a schoolroom orchestra of students belting out lyrics about solids, liquids and gases to the sound of beating desks.

“When I walk on the campus, I feel like a celebrity,” she told The Gleaner during an interview yesterday.

A past student of Denbigh High, Soltau abandoned her original dream of becoming a nurse after she realised that she didn’t have the stomach for hospital wards. But that forked road led her to what has become her true calling, she said, explaining further her passion for unconventional pedagogy.

“Mi love excitement! I live life to the fullest. I want to be remembered, so I give the students something to remember.

“... I’m a big fan of dancing – when the beat drop! When I was growing up, my mother said, ‘A nuh every drum pan knock yuh mus dance,’ so I’ve been moving and dancing for a very long time,” said Soltau.

But the song-and-dance tool is no empty stunt, she said. Soltau believes that getting students to feel relaxed in the classroom is key to learning. She told The Gleaner that her strategies are reaping rewards, driving students to do research on their own and adding new energy to teaching routines.

Before she entered the classroom, Soltau often engaged with children at her home, and a university scholarship with a community service component facilitated volunteerism at a basic school.

That was when the May Pen native observed that young children were drawn to music.

“I love children and I think that is key. Whatever you do to a child, they will remember. So I intentionally, I purposefully give these children life, so if they’re not getting this positivity elsewhere, when they come to school Monday to Friday, they’re gonna get it from Ms Soltau,” she said.

In addition to the science curriculum, she has taught her students basic life skills such as folding a fitted sheet – a task she learnt in adulthood.

The pretrained teacher is reading for her degree in secondary education at Northern Caribbean University.

CLEAR CALLING

Soltau said that Denbigh’s principal Janice Julal has been supportive of her since she was a student.

Julal spoke highly of Soltau, noting that she distinguished herself and was a student leader who gained widespread respect.

“As a student, [she] was always one of our energy bunnies, full of a lot of vibes – always active and involved ... . We saw that there was this innate ability to connect with the students, even as a student herself, and so we were very happy when she decided that she wanted to join the teaching profession,” she said.

Denbigh High is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and Julal said a vision of the school is to have more past students join the staff as they are usually more invested in the growth and development of the Clarendon institution.

“The students are responding – the love they have for her, the fact that they enjoy her classes, the fact that the grades seem to be improving because of that renewed interest – that has been evident since she started,” said Julal.

Soltau’s word of advice to young teachers is to do it for the children despite the challenges.

“We as adults owe children skills and we have to equip them for tomorrow,” she said.

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