Teacher, stay-at-home mother, PTA leader, and composer McKay School alumna Patti Ratliff has used her education and passion for music to teach in innovative ways.
Ratliff earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Brigham Young University and returned 16 years later to receive a bachelor s degree in special education. After her first graduation in 1978, Ratliff worked in the Alpine School District for two years. She then married her husband, John, and moved to San Ramon, California. While raising five children from home, she spent time as PTA president of the neighborhood school, PTA district Reflections chair, and later state Reflections chair for California. The Ratliffs returned to Utah, where she is now a grandmother of four as well as a third grade teacher at Ridgeline Elementary in Highland. Her current class includes 32 students, several of whom have learning disabilities.
Ratliff is also working to gain graduate credit in opera at Utah State University through the Utah Arts Festival, a yearly event celebrating the arts. She works with the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theater to provide young learners with opportunities to develop their writing, reading, and comprehension skills. By attending classes at Utah State, she has expanded her understanding of the Common Core, which increases the time allocated to each of the core communication skills.
"I have to say that helping my students create an opera has been the hardest thing I have ever done. I went in blind, not knowing how much of the day needs to be dedicated to writing, reading, and comprehension under the new Common Core. I was desperate to not ever bore the children. The new Core is almost overkill for most third graders. There are so many kinds of students, and the opera that the children created kept them all engaged, as they must all participate in the process and performance."
According to Ratliff, facilitating the creation of the opera's core components (the libretto and recitative) was also magical. Her students created the characters, painted the props, and danced. "The opera is meant to provoke thoughts about character and story development. The opera is unique because the characters are rich in personality, deliberate in solving problems, and can do anything they dream of," Ratliff said.
The students' opera, Magic Time Machine, involved every member of the class over its three month development. The children were taught the following guidelines before beginning the creative process: (1) none of the students could be harmed or injured, and (2) all content needed to be written under the supervision of their teacher. The Magic Time Machine was about authors, inventors, and explorers setting out to solve some of the world's major problems. It taught the ideal of persevering after failure. Not only did the students love the process of creating and performing their opera, but after participating in this creative process, the students' Utah State Core Criterion-Referenced Tests scores increased.
Ratliff is continually trying to cater to the different ways that students learn, and she has found that when music and singing are involved, the class is more excited and uplifted. The experience of creating this class opera helped the children become comfortable with singing, acting, and movement.
"As a graduate of BYU, I was given the charge from Dallin Oaks to go out and make a difference in the world. Don't ever take your education for granted and always be a student. I had a great experience at BYU, and when I finished this production, I was able to say to myself that I had followed his wise counsel."