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Education visionary Fleurette Sweeney celebrates 90, kicks off 90-for-90

Our parent foundation, the Transformative Learning Foundation, is kicking off a 90 for $90 scholarship campaign, in honor and recognition of education pioneer Fleurette Sweeney. Funds raised in this campaign will go entirely towards supporting learners through scholarships. Support. It’s a foundation for success.

A bit about Fleurette

Fleurette hails from Halifax, Canada. She was born in 1929 (and joking calls herself a “Depression Baby”), the second youngest of nine children. She enjoyed being the youngest for a six-year run, a status ended by the surprising and welcomed addition of a sweet baby brother to the family.

Boats waiting to be loaded, Halifax, Canada. Image credit: Dennis Jarvis, CC BY-SA 2.0

Fleurette’s family’s roots hearken back to 1756 with the Huguenots, where her ancestors existed in partnership on the east coast with the Indigenous people for centuries before the arrival of the colonists. Another branch of her family came to the region courtesy of the Irish potato famine, which is historically placed between 1845 and 1849. Hard work, exploration, survival, and collaboration all run deep in her blood.

Those themes continued in Fleurette’s youth, which was framed by both the Depression (1929-1939) and World War II (1939-1945). Being resourceful was a necessity, for the children as well as for the adults. Fleurette remembers a time where she and the children in her community lacked a place to gather and play. As a group, they approached the local Rotary and a few other “adult” groups, and they successfully created a gathering place for the youth in the community.

The lessons learned from this act of collaboration have forever stayed with Fleurette. When you have the vision and the mission and a group of people to help make it happen, Fleurette observes, you can accomplish most things.

In 1950, at the tender age of 21, Fleurette became a music teacher. She eventually connected with Mary Helen Richards, a connection that deeply shaped her life.

Kodály Zoltán, 1964. By URBÁN TAMÁS – CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia.org

She and Mary Helen Richards encountered the unique ideas of Zoltan Kodaly, Hungarian composer and music educator, in 1967. Having heard of his approach to music education (in the face of curriculum cuts in her school), Mary Helen wrote him a letter (generally addressed, she did not have his exact mailing address). To Mary Helen’s great surprise, he responded. Even more remarkably, he forwarded his materials to her. Together, Mary Helen and Fleurette uniquely adapted the Kodaly philosophy and incorporated his methods in their music educational approach. They are widely credited with bringing Kodaly’s philosophy to North America.

Fleurette and Mary Helen set out to introduce this model of education to various schools and universities throughout the United States and Canada, from California to Ontario to British Columbia.

She collaborated with Mary Helen Richards (1967 to 1985) developing Education Through Music and taught ETM at universities and school districts throughout the US, Canada, and Japan. In 1969, in response to interest in ETM, the Richards Institute of Education and Research was founded in Oakland, CA.

Sadly, Mary Helen died on September 26, 1998, one day short of her 77th birthday.

Upon retiring (1996) Fleurette began doctoral studies at UBC. She graduated in 2002. Her dissertation From Sound to Symbol: The Whole Song as Curriculum; The Whole Child as Pedagogue; Observation as Methodology is the basis for her continuing work with children of all abilities, families, and teachers.

Fleurette founded the Living Language Institute Foundation (1987) under the auspices of which Fleurette and colleagues have developed such projects as the Singing English Pilot Project (2002-04) to address the needs of teachers and children learning in the multi-lingual classrooms of Metro Vancouver; the Co-lingual Pilot Project (2005) an intergenerational, intercultural sharing of folk song-games among neighborhood families living in South Vancouver; and the LLIF Early Childhood Education Training Program (2012).

Fleurette currently offers directed studies in Sound to Symbol Praxis at the Graduate Institute for Transformative Learning. She also offers periodic sessions on folk song-games in Vancouver. Fleurette spent more than 45 years researching the connection between singing and speaking and the effects of social play on the educative process. That said, she considers herself, still, forever a learner.

In 2019, Fleurette turned 90. And it is in celebration of this remarkable woman that we extend an invitation for 90 people to each donate $90. The funds from this campaign will go toward creating a scholarship for our courses and programs. now takes up residence in Vancouver.

Looking back, Fleurette noted that one of the things that enabled herself and Mary Helen to reshape curriculum was that each was supported: Fleurette by the Sisters of Charity of Halifax (“the city streets are your convent. And the parish church is your chapel”), and Mary Helen by her husband. That support was critical. And to that end, the funds raised by this campaign will go towards supporting learners undertaking transformative learning.

Watch Fleurette in action, at the 2019 AERO Conference

Additional Resources

From https://songworkseducatorsassociation.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/SWEA-Newsletter-March_2018-1.pdf

“Since 2011, SongWorks Educators Association has inducted 44 Emerging Pioneers into the Fleurette Sweeney Fellowship program. These early and mid-career teachers have deepened their relationships with SongWorks through year-long mentorships with an established member of MEI who guides them through regular reflections on their teaching and prepares them to share what they’ve learned with their SongWorks colleagues at the annual MEI conference. Many Emerging Pioneers have become the torchbearers for the future of SongWorks Educators Association and the SongWorks way of teaching.”

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