Teacher Spotlight: Roneaka Thomas-Morgan
Roneaka Thomas-Morgan teaches music at D.H. Williams Preparatory School of Medicine in Chicago. She partnered with Lead Guitar in 2016-17.
Tell us a little about your family your childhood, and/or where you grew up?
My name is Roneaka Thomas-Morgan. I grew up in Englewood, a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. I have been involved in music my whole life. My father plays saxophone, trumpet, and bass guitar. He and his brothers had a band called the Thomas Brothers Band. They played blues, soul, and funk music. Every Saturday night, I would attend band rehearsal with my father, and on Sunday, I would sing in the choir at church with my mother. Music was my outlet. My neighborhood was not safe, and my mother was very protective of me, so I spent countless hours listening to my father’s albums, singing, and writing music.
Where did you go to school and college?
I went to Lindblom High School, Chicago State University for my undergrad degree in music,
and I will be finished in November with a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from
Concordia University, Nebraska.
Did you have music in school as a child? What got you started as a musician?
I did not have music consistently in school as a child. My elementary school occasionally had a
music teacher, and my high school did not have a music class until my senior year. I always
wanted to take music classes and lessons as a child, but I was told we could not afford lessons.
When I was in high school, a principal at a local school in Chicago heard me sing and gave me
information about Merit School of Music, who provided affordable music lessons. Every
weekend I took piano, choir, voice lessons, and music theory. I loved every minute of it. That is
when I decided I wanted to pursue music in college and become a music teacher. In addition, at
the age of 17, I was already conducting the youth choir at my church.
In your first year of partnering with Lead Guitar and teaching guitar what were some of
the biggest challenges?
Up until partnering with Lead Guitar, I had mainly taught choir and general music. I did not have
any experience teaching or playing guitar. Zhivko Nikolov, my co-teacher, taught me so much,
and was patient with me. I did not know all the answers to the students’ questions at first, but I
learned over time.
What are some ways you have made Lead Guitar your own?
I pulled the concept of differentiated instruction into my class. Students are placed in groups
according to ability level. They have specific learning goals according to where they are. I also
have students to identify their areas of need and create plans to improve in those areas. I study
the plans, have a discussion with students about their plans, and use the data to plan future
lessons. Also, I have created a guitar challenge game, where students are split into teams to
demonstrate their knowledge of guitar concepts and songs through a competition.
Tell us about a student for whom Lead Guitar was particularly impactful.
In the class of 2018, there was a student named Arielle Wilkes. When I arrived at Williams, she
had been learning how to play guitar on her own, but there was no program for her to officially
learn guitar in the school. When she learned about William’s partnership with Lead Guitar, she
was ecstatic and soon proved to be one of William’s most promising musicians. She spent extensive time practicing, represented the school in door to door performances, open house,
school showcases, as well as Lead Guitar’s Spring Showcase in 2017 and 2018.
How did partnering with Lead Guitar impact Williams?
Williams Prep is on the DuSable High School Campus. In the past, DuSable High School was
known for its robust music program, whose band was led by Walter Dyett. Over the years, the
music program had dwindled down to just a few courses. When I arrived at Williams Prep, I
established the first choral program in years. Lead Guitar added the quality instrumental program needed to bring music back to life on the DuSable Campus. Students now get a chance to study an instrument they do not usually have access to. The Lead Guitar program also promotes critical thinking and problem solving through their rigorous curriculum. Both of these qualities are 21st century skills students need to develop to thrive in life.
What’s your message to students trying to make their way through the obstacles this new
living and learning environment we face?
My message to students is to learn the concepts of resilience and tenacity early. We are
experiencing challenges we never faced before. Instead of giving up, this is the right time to use
their problem-solving skills. I would tell students to not be afraid to use the resources around
them, and if they do not have any, reach out and ask for help, whether it is from a community
member, teacher, parent, or friend. Sometimes people around them have the answers they need.
Finally, I would tell students to communicate and express what they are feeling about living
during a pandemic. They must remember that they are not isolated but have a community of
people around them who care.