Music In Schools

Coverage of New Haven Effort

For full coverage of the very successful Class Day
at Lincoln-Bassett, 3/2/04, Click here.

2003 Partnerships in Excellence Awards Winners
Corporate Partnership Award
June 5, 2003

  • Yale University School of Music: Dean Robert Blocker and Dr. Paul Hawkshaw
  • Nominator: Dr. Regina Lilly-Warner, Supervisor of Music, New Haven Public Schools
  • "The School of Music, through different activities and collaborative projects, has enabled the New Haven Public Schools to move to the next level of instruction, professional development and student achievement."

  • Yale University Class of 1957: Mr. Don Roberts
  • Nominator: Dr. Regina Lilly-Warner, Supervisor of Music, New Haven Public Schools
  • "The Yale Class of 1957 looked for a meaningful program to achieve satisfaction in giving something back to the community surrounding Yale Univerity, and in particular children in the schools. The program works to integrate music with literacy, and results in improved student achievement."

  • "The partnership between the Class of 1957, Yale School of Music and the Music Department of New Haven Public Schools, provides individual musical instruction and professional training opportunities for teachers. The outcome has been self-confident students who have made significant improvement in their academic achievements."

    Music classes help schools tune into kids' strengths

    Natalie Missakian, New Haven Register Staff - November 30, 2002

    NEW HAVEN (11/30/02)— About a dozen third-graders sat in front of electronic keyboards, their eyes staring down at their fingers as they waited for their teacher’s instructions.

    "OK, we’re going to try the hard thing. We’re going to play whole notes," Patricia Bissell told the class. "Put your right thumb on the middle C."

    Slowly the small classroom filled with music as the children played a succession of notes in unison. Then they threw their hands up in the air together as Bissell banged a small drum several times, the signal for them to stop playing.

    "Do you see the concentration? The focus?" asked Principal Ramona Gatison, herself a trained opera singer, as she peeked in at the lesson.

    Gatison and others at Lincoln-Bassett Community School in Newhallville hope that kind of concentration will spill over into other aspects of the children’s’ studies, such as reading, writing and math.

    And it will, says Katherine Damkohler, executive director of Education Through Music Inc., if she and Lincoln-Bassett teachers do their jobs right.

    "How wonderful for a child who is really not that successful in other areas to become successful in the arts, because that will translate into success in other places," said Damkohler, who runs the small nonprofit program in Manhattan that is now helping to infuse music into the curriculum at Lincoln-Bassett school. "The arts can build self-esteem, give children confidence."

    The new keyboards — and the new schoolwide focus on music — arrived at Lincoln-Bassett this year courtesy of the Yale Class of 1957. Class leaders, concerned about the decline of music education in schools and wanting to give something back to New Haven, agreed to organize and fund the two-year pilot program as a class project in preparation for their 50th reunion.

    To carry out their vision, they chose Education Through Music, Damkohler’s program, which uses music to boost academic achievement and social skills in poor and low-performing schools, mostly in New York City.

    When the program began 10 years ago, it helped transform the struggling Sacred Heart parochial school in Mount Vernon, N.Y., from a failing school to a recipient of a Blue Ribbon Award for Excellence from the federal Department of Education. New Haven educators are hoping for similar results at Lincoln-Bassett, which three years ago landed on Connecticut’s list of 28 low-performing schools.

    "The idea is certainly not to find prodigies," said Don Roberts, the Class of 1957 secretary, who now lives in New York. "It’s to expose every kid in the school to the discipline and excitement of music."

    Margaret O'Hara-Best, left, tutors Alexis Kennedy, 10, a Lincoln-Bassatt fourth-grader, on the xylophone, while Quisha Walker, 10, plays a larger version of the instrument. Educators say lessons in keyboarding and string instruments such as those given in Education Through Music also help students improve their reading and math skills.

    New Haven Schools Superintendent Reginald Mayo approved the program after visiting two Education Through Music schools in New York, including P.S. 68 in the north Bronx, where students start keyboard training in kindergarten and are learning violin, cello, choral singing and theater arts by fourth grade.

    At Lincoln-Bassett, pre-K children are learning movement to music while every student in kindergarten through second grade is studying general music and keyboards this year. A teacher has been hired to begin violin instruction in January for third and fourth-graders, who are also studying music technology.

    "The keyboards are cool," said 8-year-old Esiana Frank, a Lincoln-Bassett student. "There’s all kinds of sounds like hip-hop, jazz, classical."

    "I think it’s fun," 8-year-old Teth Pickens agreed.

    The key is not to stray from the three Rs, but to teach them through music, proponents of the program say. In keyboarding class, for instance, children learn fractions by studying whole notes, half notes, quarter notes and eighth notes. Kindergartners practice their numbers by counting notes and clapping their hands to the beat, an exercise that also teaches them how to listen.

    Every teacher in the school has been trained to incorporate music into his or her daily lessons.

    "Kids love music and they can learn so many things, even the little things like spelling words from notes," said Regina Warner, supervisor of music for the school system.

    Gatison said parents have already told her they are noticing a difference in their kids.

    "When they come home, they’re excited about their day," she said.

    Class of '57 boosts music in public schools

    Yale Daily News -- By Elana Bildner - January 13, 2003

    Malcolm Mitchell graduated from Yale nearly 50 years ago, but he wouldn't be surprised to hear that his alma mater is now home to an opera company, a good number of chamber orchestras, and more student-run a cappella groups than at any other American University.

    That is because Mitchell '57 knows music has a special significance at Yale.

    "There's a connection between music and Yale that goes back for generations," Mitchell said. "Freshmen coming into Yale have more music in their backgrounds than freshmen at other colleges"

    So when Mitchell and other alumni from the Class of '57 decided to organize a community service effort in honor of their upcoming 50th reunion, one proposal stood out: improving music education in public schools.

    "We discussed a number of projects, but as soon as somebody mentioned music, especially the fact that there is less music in elementary schools than when we had been [there], the class got very excited," Mitchell said. "There was virtually no vote as soon as the topic came up, everyone said, 'That's the one.'"

    Five years later, the project called the Music in Schools initiative is thriving, uniting 75 of Mitchell's former classmates, the Yale School of Music and a local elementary school. Meanwhile, the class of '57 is watching its vision become reality only a few blocks away from its old dorm rooms, Mitchell said he and co-coordinator Don Roberts '57 have been trying to involve their classmates as much as possible in the project in order to make it more than a simple fund-raiser.

    "We insisted that [the initiative] be something that all classmates could participate in .... that the work would be done by the classmates themselves," Mitchell said. "It isn't that we simply [chose] a worthy cause as an object of our charity, but rather that we defined' a project that we could actually carry through ourselves."

    Alumni from the class are collecting newspaper articles and academic research on music education, meeting with music teachers and national organizations, and even studying programs in their local school districts. They are also working closely with the Yale School of Music and Education Through Music, Inc., a New York City-based nonprofit, to implement the project at the Lincoln-Bassett School in New Haven.

    The two-year pilot program at Lincoln-Bassett aims to do more than bring music into the classroom. The program's coordinators said they hope skills learned in music class such as logic, concentration, and how to follow instructions will translate into, academic and personal success for the students.

    'The idea of the program is that the arts, and music, can contribute to an overall education," School of Music professor Paul Hawkshaw said. "Tbe mental processes and even the physical processes [of music] are things which children can take and apply to a broader perspective of things."

    At Lincoln-Bassett, kindergarteners are learning movement, to music, second graders are playing notes on new keyboards, and third graders are learning math by thinking about rhythms and the values of different notes. The new emphasis is helping the school focus on the "whole child,' New Haven Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Eleanor Osbome said.

    "We do so much around tests and test scores, we forget that a well-rounded child isn't a kid who took a test; it's about cooperation, collaboration, developing aesthetics for fine things," Osborne said. "When you get to be 50 years old, you are not going to remember that you passed eight tests, but you are going to remember that you played an instrument that will stay with you forever."

    Nw Haven Supervisor of Music Regina Lilly-Warner said that after some initial growing pains, the program is producing positive results for Lincoln-Bassett students.

    "Every day we see a little bit more - a kid is blossoming, or coming out of a shell, or something in math has clicked because of what he learned in music;, she said. "That makes it worthwhile!'

    Lilly-Wagner said even teachers are benefiting from the increased presence of music at the school.

    "Teachers who had never gone near the violin played violin. One of the secretaries said, 'Oh, I took my keyboard out at home and I've been practicing my "Mary Had a Little Lamb;" Lilly-Wagner said. "It's a winning situation for everyone involved."

    Ellsworth Davis '57, correspondence secretary for the class, visited Lincoln-Bassett recently with some classmates to see the program in action. He said he believes the program's impact will be "quite terrific."

    "The Kids were very focused;" he said. "They're taking to it quite well."

    Davis said he hopes as many of his classmates as possible will get involved in the initiative during its remaining five years a process he said is already beginning to happen.

    "A lot of people originally thought music and kids, you know, it wasn't football and big guys. They didn't quite get it." he said. "As we've gone along, more and more people have conceptually and actually signed on. They're seeing that music, which has been so important to so many of them, is missing in an organized way from the lives of many kids from less prosperous schools."

    On November 5, 2002, a professional development day for New Haven Public School teachers, Lincoln Bassett Community School hosted a workshop at the school for the teachers focused on connecting music and literacy for teachers, parents and the community. About 300 attended, including five from the Class of 1957 - Malcolm Mitchell, Nick Tingley, Gus Kellogg, Ellsworth Davis, Don Roberts. The class was recognized with a plaque for its contributions to music in the New Haven Public School system. On behalf of the class, Don gave the acceptance speech. Other speakers included the Superintendent of New Haven Public Schools, Dr. Reginald Mayo, and the Dean of the Yale School of Music, Dr. Robert Blocker.

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