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Instrumental to learning

On the back wall, the word “music” was spelled down a broad, white stripe in the midst of various academic subjects: the M came from music, the U from language, S from history, I from reading and C from science.

Dark brown ukuleles lined the east and west walls, under the windows and red curtains.

But Wednesday night, the music room at Roosevelt Elementary School was filled not with students, but rather with adults — parents, teachers, administrators as well as school board members and candidates. There were more guests than chairs.

They were there for a panel discussion about Burbank Unified’s music-education programs — how far they’ve come since 2005 and where they’re going in the next few years, including a goal of providing weekly music education for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

“It’s sort of the beginning of a conversation,” said panel moderator Trena Pitchford, executive director of Burbank Arts for All Foundation, which supports and promotes arts education in Burbank. The organization hosted the discussion.

Panelists included the district’s arts coordinator, Peggy Flynn, elementary music teacher Steve Hollis, Jordan Middle School band director John Whitener and Burbank High School music teacher Michael Stanley.

Flynn said she had been “blown away” by Burbank’s music-education programs in 1991, before budget cuts forced their demise. But, she said school district officials have worked to restore arts education, including general music education in its elementary schools, since 2005.

Two teachers were hired to provide twice monthly elementary music instruction in 2007 and the district hired two more for the 2014-15 school year, she said, enabling weekly classes.

The decision came while Burbank Unified was developing its three-year financial road map, known as the Local Control and Accountability Plan, after a 2014 survey showed music was the second-most requested item for state funding, she said.

“That speaks to how important it is to our community,” she added.

While every school currently has a district-funded music program, boosters and parent-teacher associations at various schools raise funds to supplement those programs, she said.

In discussing how music education benefits children, Whitener said it’s more academic than people may realize, but it’s also “fundamentally… human.”

Hollis said he often works academic topics such as fractions into music lessons to reinforce what his students learn in other classes.

He said the addition of two music teachers means more frequent music classes and less time spent reviewing past lessons. It’s also allowed him to begin teaching the ukulele to fourth- and fifth-graders at Roosevelt.

“It’s a great instrument. It’s fun and it’s kid-size… [but] it’s not a kid’s toy, it’s a real instrument,” he said.

However, a few parents voiced concerns that Roosevelt and Providencia elementary schools offer training in string instruments, but feed into Jordan Middle School, which does not.

Flynn said that despite having to learn a new instrument, students who learned to play violin at Providencia are taking nonstring instrumental music classes at Jordan Middle School at four times the rate than before the elementary music program began. Second- and third-grade students at Roosevelt are also learning to play the violin.

Following the discussion panel, Jennifer Meglemre, principal at Roosevelt, said her goal is to force the middle school to offer stringed instrument classes.

“I believe in finding a way,” Meglemre said. “And I believe the middle schools can find a way.”

Article By Chad Garland, Posted in www.burbankleader.com