Kerri Epps joined Westridge this year as our Middle and Upper School orchestra teacher. Kerri earned her Bachelors degree in Music Education with an emphasis in violin from UCLA and is currently pursuing her Masters degree in Music Teaching and Learning from the University of Southern California. She has nearly 10 years of teaching experience that ranges from the elementary to the collegiate level.
Tell me about your background.
My musical journey started way back in fourth grade when I learned to play the violin. In high school, I knew that in some way music was going to be the central feature of my life and one of my teachers asked if I had thought about going into education. It was a lightbulb moment for me, I hadn't even realized that was an option! So I studied music education at UCLA for my undergrad and that's also where I got my teaching credential. When I graduated, I jumped right into teaching for nonprofits here in Los Angeles. Then I moved to a school in El Segundo where they wanted to create a strings program from scratch, so I built it for them. After seven years there, they had a 2nd through 12th grade strings program.
Why did you decide to be a music teacher?
There is a certain magic that is inherent in the arts, and it connects to our humanity in a very deep way. It’s something that I deeply care about and wanted to continue to have as part of my life. So coming to teaching was a chance for me to continue to engage in it, as well as to explore and share that magic with others.
Why do you like teaching Middle and Upper School?
I love that in the Upper School you have the students who have focused in on their interests and have decided that music is what they’re passionate about. And because they're more advanced, you get to do more advanced repertoire and dig deeper into different kinds of music, which is a lot of fun.
Middle School I just love because they're all weird and it's the best! They're quirky, they're outgoing, and they aren’t really self-conscious yet, and I love that. I wasn't sure when I first started teaching middle school five or six years ago if I would like it or not. But I'm a total goofball, so once I started, I realized how amazing it is to be with kids who want to be silly too.
How do you think music impacts students’ overall education?
It gives you a way to engage in your learning in a different capacity. In music, you're applying many skills that you're learning in other classes, but you might not realize it. You might be learning about history through composers and music, or learning rhythm, which is mathematical, so it's like you're feeling math. It's a way that students are deeply engaging in their learning, not just in music, but also with other subjects, even if they’re not aware. I think the best learning happens when kids don't realize they're learning. Music classes also offer a place to be expressive and creative and to access that part of yourself.
Do you have a favorite teaching moment so far?
I think my favorite moments so far have been the ones that end in us laughing. When something silly or unexpected happens and we all have a good laugh, those are the fun moments. I think too often in a “classical” setting, there's this sense of tradition of being very focused and very serious. So I like it when a lesson will balance that out. When we can approach music without having to feel like uptight, I think it allows us to be more creative and expressive, and we can bring our own ideas to what we're learning.
Why did you choose Westridge?
I mean, it's more like “why wouldn't you choose Westridge?” I was looking for the next thing to challenge myself and for a place where I could be my best self. When I read this job description it felt like an exact description of who I am and what I want to do. I feel like I've arrived at this magical place where the school and administration are so supportive and the parents and students are so engaged, it’s amazing. It's fun to tell my teacher friends about my Westridge students because they're very unique. They’re very driven and focused but also–especially with my middle school groups–quirky and silly and it’s so much fun to teach them!
What is your first impression of working at an all-girls school?
I'm definitely loving all the girl power, like at the International Day of the Girl assembly (about the lack of female representation in Hollywood). There was something so cool about being in a room full of young women who are so empowered and excited and proud and strong. When they were cheering and shouting “channel your inner Mulan,” I’m not going to lie, I got a little emotional. I also felt super pumped up by their excitement—I left feeling like I could do anything!
Any interesting fact about you that you would like to share?
If I could travel to space, I would. I have always been fascinated with space. I took an astronomy class in college called “Life in the Universe,” and it just blew my mind. I think space travel is the coolest thing ever. If someone said, “we need you to go to space right now” I would not even think twice. I would be ready to go!
What do you like to do for fun?
Well, right now I'm in grad school, so all my “fun time” is spent reading philosophy and writing papers. But I would say living in Hermosa and having access to the ocean is a big part of who I am. I grew up in Santa Monica and I've always lived close to the beach, so I love being by the water. I also spend a lot of time with my friends and family. My whole family lives out here, so we get together a lot. My parents are super engaged, they'll be at all my concerts this year. I don't think they've ever missed a concert! So I love family time, outdoor time, I love cooking, and I enjoy reading.