Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-ReviewSteven Meloney of the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus speaks to a group of fifth-graders at Colfax Upper Elementary School in Springdale on Thursday Nov. 3, 2016.


Gabe Smith gives presentations to students across the country and hears the same couple responses each time he asks, “So, what do you know about John Lennon?”

Right on cue Thursday morning at Colfax Upper Elementary School in Springdale, one student blurted out, “He was in The Beatles!” Another alluded to Lennon having been shot and killed in 1980 before the well of responses ran dry.

That’s where Smith comes in. As an on-board engineer with the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, he travels from school to school, helping students compose and record their own songs and teaching them about Lennon’s advocacy for peace through music.

The visit to Colfax Upper Elementary, a school for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in the Allegheny Valley School District, was one of just three scheduled stops in the state. Before Wednesday, the bus’ last stop in Western Pennsylvania was a two-day visit to McKeesport High School in October 2015.

“The whole mission of the bus is to try to carry on the legacy of John Lennon, so we try to spread his message of peace as well as his love of music,” Smith said. “We try to combine those two.”

About 225 students began the morning by making a human peace sign in Colfax’s gym. Classes then toured the bus one at a time before playing keyboards, drums and guitars in a tent set up in the gym.

The Lennon Bus, a nonprofit in its 19th year of operation, is equipped with four cameras, several musical instruments and two recording studios with soundproofed walls and sliding doors. The musical technology allows a small group of students to spend a day recording an original song at a few stops.

To allow as many students as possible to tour the bus and learn more about Lennon, vocal music teacher Jayne Sheldon elected to instead set up the visit as a tour day.

“I would like for them to get to know about John Lennon, about The Beatles, about his message of peace,” said Sheldon, who is in her 27th year in the district. “As for the technology, I’d like for them to see that there’s a whole world of technology out there that even they can get involved in.”

Sheldon, who applied to have the bus visit about a month and a half ago, said the timing of the stop meshed well with the school’s growing science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) curriculum. It proved a valuable experience for a few students who are already heavily involved in music.

“I like that we have a lot of freedom with what we can play,” said Abby Anderson of the school’s music program. Abby is a member of the sixth-grade chorus and chamber singers.

Said Alana Rudolf, also a member of the sixth-grade chorus and chamber singers: “I like trying new genres.”

Colfax Upper Elementary was selected for the visit by Connectivity Communications, a Pittsburgh-based company affiliated with Juniper Networks, a Lennon Bus sponsor.

Sheldon applied for the bus to visit on a whim after being forwarded an email from Tina Kaczor, the district’s technology systems coordinator. Sheldon said she didn’t think her school would have much of a chance but was shocked to receive the good news a few weeks later.

“It was just so surprising that a little school in Springdale would be selected,” Kaczor said. “(Sheldon) sent me an email and I said, ‘You’d better invite me.’ ”

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