Music education takes center stage this month

J.W. Arnold Elementary School Teacher Joanne Maples patiently went through each note of a song about the "Sounds of the Sea," with a class of second-graders on Wednesday, taking time to teach her students how each note sounds.

After a few minutes of reviewing, then practicing a note, Maples congratulated her pupils and proclaimed that they could read music. "Good job everyone," she said. "You've learned how to read music. You know, my husband didn't have music when he was in elementary school, and now, he doesn't know how to read music ... You second-graders are learning to do something that my 59-year-old husband never got a chance to learn."

Maples is the state Elementary Division Chairperson-elect for the Jonesboro-based Georgia Music Educators Association. She is also one of many music teachers across the nation, who are celebrating the fact that March is The National Association for Music Education's "Music in Our Schools Month." This year's theme is "Music lasts a lifetime."

The National Association of Music Education, which also goes the name "MENC," started singling out a time to celebrate music education programs, with a one-day celebration in New York City, in 1973, according to the group's web site. The web site also shows the event was expanded to a week-long celebration in 1977, and expanded again to a full month's recognition in 1985.

Darlene Guida, the state "Music In Our Schools Month" chairperson, said the purpose of the celebration is to show why it is important to have music-education programs in public schools. Guida is also the music teacher at James A. Jackson Elementary School's School of the Arts, which will host a pair of "Music In Our Schools Month" performance hours at the end of the month.

"First off, ‘Music In Our Schools Month' is a time to bring awareness of the importance of music for children," Guida said. "The inherent disciplines of music are all the vehicle for a child's total, well-rounded development."

Several schools in Clayton County are planning programs to celebrate "Music In Our Schools Month," according to Maples. Her own students are writing paragraphs on what music means to them. Several other schools are also having students write about music, according to e-mails from music teachers that Maples shared with the Clayton News Daily.

Some of the programs at other schools, that Maples provided information about, include: Performances at Parent-Teacher Association meetings; making academic-themed music videos; giving musical names to lunch menu offerings; having music groups perform during each day's morning announcements, and poster projects highlighting the importance of music to children

Recently, cuts to elementary school art and music education have been recommended for Clayton County's public schools. Specifically, Superintendent Edmond Heatley is recommending the county's school board cut in half the number of educators teaching each subject over the next two school years, as the district tries to make up an expected $49.2 million budget deficit.

Cutting the number of elementary school music teachers half would alone save the district $2.5 million, according to Heatley's projections.

At one point, last week, Heatley had also floated the option of eliminating elementary school art and music programs all together, but the backed away from that option after some school board members expressed strong opposition to completely cutting out those programs.

On Wednesday, J.W. Arnold Elementary School parent, Sommer Johnson, wrote in an e-mail that she is still trying to lobsupport among school board members for elementary school fine arts programs. "To hear my children speak of different musical notes and tones or to have them teach me how to play an instrument, read notes, or sing is like a breath of fresh air," Johnson wrote. "To be immersed in a play filled with Clayton County students, astonished at their talent that may otherwise be left undiscovered is amazing. To take that away would be criminal."

Guida said Clayton County is far from being the only place where art-and-music education is being threatened budget cuts. "The situation is a national crisis, not just something Clayton County is facing," she said. "It [budget cuts during a struggling economy] is something the whole country is facing. It is certainly a difficult time."

Guida said she could remember a time in Clayton County — the 1970's to be exact — when elementary schools had to share music and art teachers. "But, always the goal was that every school would [eventually] have its own music teacher and its own art teacher," she said.

Guida added that scientific research has shown "half of the brain will not develop properly without music and creative expression."

Maples said the benefits of having an elementary school music education program go beyond teaching students how to sing notes and read sheet music. It reaches out to touch every aspect of the education curriculum, she said.

"We're doing rhythm, and that teaches them about math," she said. "It's art because they are looking at notes, and the different shapes they have. We're doing social studies when we talk about which parts of the world different types of music come from. Just today, we did science when we were singing that song about sea shells [‘Sounds of the Sea'], because we talked about where sea shells are from.

"You might say we're cross-curricular, because we cross all over the curriculum."