It’s tough enough to teach middle schoolers to play an instrument.

But this year, Biddeford Middle School music teacher Amy Delorge is moving beyond sheet music and music stands to teach students about social justice.

In the spring, the school’s 120 band students will learn, through music, about the Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II, Delorge said. She was led to that decision, she said, by the recent turmoil surrounding the presidential campaign and a film she saw at an Asian-American film festival last summer.

“I thought, I can’t just teach music anymore,” said Delorge, who has taught at Biddeford Middle School for 21 years. “There is so much fear and hate, and that is what ultimately led to the Japanese internment camps.

“I thought, how can I help teach more compassion and empathy and love? There must be a way to do that through music.”

Delorge’s efforts are being recognized nationally as well. She is one of 25 semifinalists nationwide for a “music educator of the year” award given by Music & Arts, a nationwide retailer of band and orchestra equipment. The winner will be named Dec. 15.


Delorge also has a personal tie to the internment camps – her aunt, Yosh Golden, was born at Manzanar War Relocation Center, now a national historic site, in California.

Manzanar was one of 10 camps where about 110,000 Japanese-American citizens and resident Japanese who were not citizens were detained during World War II. About two-thirds of the people detained at Manzanar for almost three years were U.S. citizens.

The students will learn to play two pieces about the campus, and Golden will meet with the students, Delorge said. In future years, she plans to explore Muslim music and African-American music.

“I want to start focusing on broadening our ability to be compassionate and understanding of things we may not be familiar with,” she said.

Decades of teaching have taught her a few lessons, too.

“At first I thought it was about helping the students ‘be amazing’ at their music,” she said. “Now I see that wasn’t what my students needed. They needed someone to care deeply about them.”


Delorge does that by balancing the discipline of music with the “goofiness” of middle school. She celebrates each child’s birthday, with the entire class singing along, and includes a “metalheads” performance, where students bang on pots and pans with hammers to make music. After big performances there are pizza parties and ice cream treats.

“I have really high standards,” she said. “I push myself and I push them. I want them to learn that if you work hard and persevere, you can accomplish great things,” she said.

But there’s a deeper learning here, too.

“I do hope they learn how to be kind, to respect others, to work hard and – whatever they are going to do – just to do their best.”

Mainers to be thankful for

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