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Helen Yi, Music Teacher, Phelps Luck Elementary School

Posted: March 29th, 2017

Phelps Luck Elementary School music teacher Helen Yi applies one of her favorite mottos, “appreciate all styles,” to both music and people. She said, “As a music teacher, it’s great to promote different music styles and cultures, so my students can learn to appreciate them.” She continued, “Part of my job is guiding my students to find their strengths, not just musically but socially, too.”

Yi teaches music classes for all the grade levels, and chorus for 4th and 5th grade students. She is known for her creative, interactive music instruction, offering a variety of activities including singing, analyzing music, playing instruments from around the world, playing musical games, improvising songs, and more. The students get to show off their musical talents in concerts like the annual schoolwide winter sing-along.

Phelps Luck Elementary School Principal Michelle Leader said Yi is respected by the entire school community because “Helen is phenomenal in every sense of the word. She connects with her kids and holds them to high expectations. Her kids are always completely immersed in her class activities.”

Particularly noteworthy is Yi’s launch of a bucket drumming before-school program for 5th grade boys, with a donation of paint buckets by Home Depot. Leader said, “Helen is always trying to figure out how to help kids be successful. She felt there were some boys in the upper grades that could use another outlet to shine, so she created the bucket drumming program last year. We’re a strengths-based school, and this is one example of how she brings out the best in our kids.”

Born in South Korea, Yi came to the United States when she was in high school — she is a Mount Hebron High School graduate. Growing up, she had dreamt of becoming an opera singer and sang in countless concerts, including in the All State Senior Chorus. In college she decided to major in music education, combining her love of performance with her love of working with kids. Phelps Luck was one of her student teaching placements, and she lucked out when a job opening became available there upon her graduation. She has worked at the school her entire teaching career and has become a model teacher, mentoring new music teachers in the county.

“As an alumna, I always wanted to stay in Howard County and give back what I received,” Yi said. She feels fortunate to work in her school, which she calls “supportive” and “amazing.” She continued, “I’m so blessed to work in Howard County. There are so many resources from the music department. As a music community, we engage with and motivate each other.”

Yi creates a comfortable learning environment in part because she shares her experiences of trying new things with her students. A lifelong learner, Yi continues to educate herself in different areas of music, as well as in math. She regularly sings at her church, and sometimes she creates music at home for her husband and two kids, who both attend HCPSS schools. As she’s come up with new musical creations, she’s discovered an interest in writing poetry, and even got published in a Korean literary publication. Yi said, “I love to learn new things outside my comfort zone and challenge myself. It’s wonderful to work at an elementary school because my students appreciate my efforts and love giving suggestions.”