Music is missing in underfunded schools

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MUSIC: it constantly surrounds us, reminds us of strong memories of past events, makes us happy, calms us, energizes us, soothes us, makes us sad, we exercise and dance to it; it is part of our very being. Music is played in elevators, shopping malls, doctor’s offices, schools, sporting events and many other places. Music reminds us of all kinds of things we’ve done throughout our lives and brings back nostalgic memories for most people. Most of us can document our lives through music.

Hospitals and rehabilitation centers routinely use art and music therapy with their patients to help people increase self-esteem, reduce stress, inspire self-discovery, and lift spirits. Philadelphia’s Magee Rehabilitation Hospital has an art studio, music studio, and horticulture center for its patients. These therapies help patients deal with life-altering bodily and/or mental injuries and are often seen as a crucial part of their recovery.

Einstein Medical Center and Pottstown Hospital are among the first five recipients of a new music therapy program. This new program initiative is supported by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and The Hospital and HealthSystem Association of Pennsylvania. The music therapy program supports the resilience and well-being of healthcare workers, and each hospital can design its own program to support frontline workers who are responding and have responded to patients with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Music trains the brain to be disciplined, observant and memorize. It encourages teamwork in a setting such as a band or orchestra. The involvement of music engages more areas of the brain than any other activity. Music has been scientifically proven to have a powerful effect on the brain. Recent research shows that music can help in many aspects such as pain reduction, stress relief, memory and brain damage. Children with musical backgrounds do better overall in academic subjects, especially language and math. Brain scans have shown that musicians have healthier, bigger, better and better connected brains and that their working memory, hearing abilities and mental flexibility are superior to those of non-musicians.

Most people take it for granted that all types of music lessons and instrument lessons are available in public schools. This has been the norm for decades and continues to be so in most school districts. Those in underfunded districts, however, have a different story altogether. The Pottstown School District has not offered string or band lessons to its students since the early 1970s due to cost-cutting measures.

Compare that to the nearby Boyertown Area school district with a fabulous string program teaching string lessons to nearly 500 students a year and offering varying levels of orchestras throughout the district. Let us remember once again that Montgomery County is the second richest county in the state of Pennsylvania. That this same opportunity is not offered to Pottstown students is unconscionable.

Pottstown offers general music lessons for students in kindergarten through 5th grade, but none in grades 6 through 8, which, again, is an anomaly among colleges in the state of PA. Woodwind, brass and percussion lessons are offered to students starting in grade 4, but end in grade 8. None of these classes are offered to students in grades 9 through 12 at Pottstown High School.

Students in grades 4-5 have a beginner’s group that meets after school on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, the regular 5-6 group meets after school. The 7-8 group meets before school at 7 a.m. The middle school choir, grades 5-8 meet before and after school, not during the school day, as is the norm for all of these musical offerings at most schools.

Depriving the students of the Pottstown School District and any other underfunded school district of all the musical offerings they should have does a huge disservice to these children. It’s time for us to give all students the same opportunities to excel and experience the same chances to study and discover music as students attending well-funded school districts. It is immoral not to do so.

Dr. Myra Forrest is a lifelong educator and former school district superintendent. She is currently an education advocate for the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation.

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