Music has been a part of Robin Cogan's life for as long as she can remember.
As a music teacher, Cogan believes the arts are an integral part of a child's education and has been instilling this value in her students for 26 years.
Cogan, 55, has been the music teacher at Endhaven Elementary in Ballantyne since 2003. She uses music, song and dance to teach students about diversity and other cultures.
It was Cogan's love of other cultures that led her to the World Affairs Council of Charlotte, an organization dedicated to bringing international education into local schools.
In fall 2010 while visiting the organization's website, Cogan saw a scholarship opportunity she couldn't pass up. Through the Council Scholars Program, the council was giving educators $2,500 to travel to a different country to bring a global perspective into their classrooms.
"I haven't traveled much, so I was excited at the thought of going to another country and learning about their musical heritage," said Cogan. "I immediately began thinking about which country I'd choose and what I could bring back to my students."
Cogan applied to travel to Estonia, a country that borders Russia and Latvia in the Baltic region in northern Europe. She said she chose the country because of its rich folk-music heritage.
"They are known for their singing revolution and how they used singing to gain their independence," said Cogan. "Folk music is still an important part of their education."
Cogan was notified she had won the scholarship in early February. She said she felt honored to have won.
"I was in total shock," said Cogan. "I am still numb."
She and her husband will be flown to Finland and then travel to Estonia in late June. During her three-week stay, Cogan will travel to parts of Estonia, Finland and to St. Petersburg, Russia. While in Estonia, she will attend the national youth song and dance festival and go behind the scenes to watch rehearsals.
"I will get to watch 30,000 young people rehearse and perform," said Cogan. "I hope to bring back what I learn about rehearsing to my classroom."
Cogan also said she wants to learn how young people in Estonia react to their musical heritage and bring those lessons back to her students. Next year, Cogan said, she wants to expand on North Carolina's musical history with her fourth- and fifth-graders.
"I want to bring our state's folk music into the classroom to tie in with the student's social studies class," she said. "I want to learn how to better do that when I'm in Estonia."
Cogan also will keep a blog with videos of her travels and of the festival. She hopes her students will follow her through the journey.
"This is the age where students embrace people with diverse backgrounds," said Cogan. "I think the earlier we can get them interested in other cultures, the better."
Cogan integrates music from other cultures into her classroom on a daily basis. She recently taught her third-grade students to sing songs in seven different languages and perform the native dance that goes with the song.
"They were nervous because they thought it would be really hard," said Cogan. "But in the end they were so proud of themselves. They performed at our winter recital and were just wonderful."
She also taught her kindergarten and first-grade students songs and dances from China to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Cogan said she believes children are never too young to learn a new language.
"It doesn't matter if they are singing or speaking it," said Cogan. "It's good for them to know that learning another language is important in being a member of the 21st century. I also teach them to pronounce words correctly so they don't accidentally offend someone."
Cogan also heads the multicultural fair at Endhaven. She began the fair two years ago when she realized the number of varied cultures within the school.
"We are an extremely diverse school," she said. "At our fair, we had students who represented countries from across the world, from Russia to India to Ireland. It was so beautiful to see them all sing and dance in their native languages and in their native dress."
Cogan said that this year she has made a point to recognize the various cultures in her own classroom. She has students sing their native national anthem and has had their parents teach other students songs and dances from their culture.
"Children need global awareness," said Cogan. "All through the year, we travel around the world."