Creators Speak—August 2019
Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM)
First, could you describe your initial vision for your program, and some of the important steps you took to make it a reality?
I was inspired by the El Sistema programs I observed in Venezuela as part of my Sistema Fellowship at NEC. At each music center I visited, children of all ages played music together with joyfulness and determination, unlike anything I’d seen in the US. Ensemble was at the core and music served a larger goal, which is why Dr. Abreu is adamant that El Sistema is a social service program, not a music one. Through music, children learn life skills that help them become successful, productive and engaged citizens.
In Venezuela, music programming occurs after-school, but I wanted to be sure that all students had access to the lifelong benefits that music provides. This is why JAMM is an in-school model for the first two years: all kindergartners and 1st graders receive 90 minutes of violin instruction during the school week as an intervention for school readiness skills before moving into an after-school program as 2nd graders.
An important step was to speak the language and goals of stakeholders. I researched what the goals and needs are of my community and school district. Then I demonstrated how JAMM could work as a partner with these key stakeholders in meeting their goals, which are access and equity for all students, development of school readiness skills in its youngest students, community and student engagement, and academic achievement so that Juneau’s youth can be contributing members in their community.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you faced in starting/developing your program, and what did you learn from those challenges?
JAMM is its own non-profit so that it does not become financially dependent upon the unpredictable ups and downs of school budgets. For example, during JAMM’s second year of operation, the superintendent at the time recommended reducing the specialist allocation at every elementary school, which would have reduced the music teacher position and thus eliminated the in-school JAMM program at Glacier Valley, but because the community funded the JAMM instruments and a Suzuki teaching artist’s time to work alongside the music and kindergarten teachers, the school board felt a sense of accountability to the community, especially since JAMM’s mission supported the strategic goals of the school district, backed by research.
The early stages of any program make it vulnerable as it establishes credibility and relevance in a structured system. School and community interconnectedness is the reason behind JAMM’s success and sustainability. The community funds instruments and specialized musical training, while the school district provides space and time during the school day for both school music teacher and kindergarten teachers to work alongside local string instructors. Collaboration is seen as an investment: stakeholders therefore are less likely to remove their support. JAMM’s strength is its diversity: both public and private funds and both expertise from school staff and community artists – all working together as an integrated whole.
Also, because of Juneau’s remoteness (this Alaskan capital is only accessible by boat or plane), I’ve become more intentional about building capacity within the school through uncovering hidden talents among school staff. For example, our school counselor instructs both Morning Guitar and Rock Band, a 2nd grade teacher who speaks Tlingit, teaches Tlingit dance and drumming, a 3rd grade teacher leads composition class using Garage Band, and a pre-school teacher who has a minor in dance education offers a creative movement class – all our integral components of our JAMM program.
What were some of your biggest successes? Why were they successful for you?
- JAMM has broadened the role of school music programs and music teachers. Principals at all three JAMM school sites have increased music teacher allocations from .5 to full-time to meet the expanding role that music plays in the school curriculum and community as an intervention for school readiness skills, positive youth development model and way to increase student/parent and community engagement.
- JAMM is both an intervention for school readiness skills and positive youth development model. By knowing the language and goals of my school and community, I was able to communicate how music can be part of the solution. I was able to reframe the role of the school music teacher, utilize existing resources within Title I schools and contribute to systemic change. When music serves to build key habits for success in school and life and empower and help students become contributing members in society, then more people are at the table interested in supporting music in schools and communities. This collective goal also changes the way in which you teach. In the end, your students still will accomplish exceptional music skills, but they’ll come away with much more. This is how El Sistema has changed the landscape of music education: ensemble is the starting point, not private lessons; peer-teaching is equally as important as instruction from adults; and performance is on-going and in the community, rather than two concerts a year on the school stage.
- JAMM’s team-teaching model is practiced both in-school and after-school for a reason. It ensures accountability, encourages creativity, builds community among teachers, and models to our students the importance of collaboration. JAMM starts with an in-school model for the first two years to:
- Utilize Existing School Personnel: music teacher and kindergarten teacher team together to provide violin instruction as a 90 minute/wk school readiness intervention, including paraeducators assigned to work with students with special needs.
- Provide Access and Equity for All Students: JAMM ensures that all kindergarten and 1st grade students receive violin instruction as part of their school day for the first two years. A JAMM-trained music instructor works alongside music and classroom teachers. Each provides a different strength while learning from one another. This model serves as embedded professional development, while modeling for students the importance of collaboration.
- Be Cost Effective: Through community and school partnerships, JAMM is able to offer programming at no cost to families. The per pupil average cost for the entire school year is $200. Private lessons for the same amount of time would equal $3,150. Many parents choose to purchase violins through JAMM, while others check them out when their child participates in JAMM’s after-school program.
- Invest in Early Childhood: JAMM is based upon cognitive research showing that playing an instrument is the “best brain training” a child can receive to help with school readiness skills. A recent study by Hudziak (2014) concluded, “What we found was the more a child trained on an instrument, it accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotion control.”
- Create a Positive School Climate and School Connectedness: According to Farrington et al. (2012), “Recent research on non-cognitive factors has not only suggested their importance for student academic performance but has also … yield(ed) high payoffs in improved educational outcomes as well as reduced racial/ethnic and gender disparities in school performance and educational attainment.” JAMM teachers focus on developing these non-cognitive factors related to academic performance throughout instruction: sense of belonging, self-efficacy, purpose, and effort.
- Use Time Effectively: young children can tire out early. By providing violin instruction as part of their school day, students are more alert, attentive and benefit from having their music and classroom teachers present to manage the class, provide developmentally appropriate instruction and maintain consistent routines. When JAMM moves to an after-school program in 2nd grade, behavior issues are minimal because expectations and consistent school culture and language are already in place.
- Expand the Role of the School Music Teacher: At all three JAMM school sites, the music teacher position has increased by .5 FTE to full-time to reflect the important role that music plays in the social, emotional, and intellectual development of children. Music is no longer seen as only enrichment or teacher prep provider. Instead, music partners in building positive school climate and culture, serves as an intervention for school readiness skills, and engages students, families, and communities.
By partnering with organizations in the arts, education, and social services sectors as well as businesses, foundations and individuals, JAMM strives to make a collective, significant impact in schools and the community. It leverages existing resources and capitalizes on shared goals. Because JAMM addresses the District’s strategic goals in the areas of student achievement and engagement, the District provides space free of charge for after school programs and funds school music and classroom teachers to work alongside JAMM instructors during school hours.
What were some of the directions that didn’t work, and why?
Only having the principal of an interested school observe the JAMM program in action. It was difficult getting buy-in from music and classroom teachers because they didn’t see it. One JAMM school had its entire team observe and the buy-in and therefore program’s successful implementation were immediate.
If you could do it all again, how would you do things differently?
Currently we have another school interested in starting a JAMM program and we won’t move forward until the entire team (principal, music teacher, all K and 1st grade teachers) observe both a JAMM kinder and 1st grade violin class in action.
Where would you like to go from here?
I just returned from a six-month Fulbright study in the UK where I researched how music supports student creativity, agency and identity. I would like to integrate more opportunities for our students to be creative and incorporate music that resonates with them. JAMM also continues to receive national attention as a teacher-training site and inspiration for other in-school models across the country. A year ago, I received a PhD in Education with a concentration in Learning, Instruction and Innovation. I would like to teach at the university level and partner with a school music program, which together would provide a laboratory for preservice teachers to test, take risks in a supportive environment and reflect on best teaching practices as part of a teaching degree.
Any thoughts you’d like to share with program leaders? Like
- advice for getting started,
- getting to the next level?
- 3 most important things you’ve learned
- Music education in the US tends to specialize and compartmentalize itself by instrument, ensemble, pedagogy, or genre. Our profession would benefit from emphasizing what unites us, rather than what divides us.
- Know the language and goals/needs of your stakeholders and communicate how music can be that solution. When the larger goal is developing contributing citizens, more people will be at the table interested in supporting your program. This more collective goal also changes the way in which you teach. In the end, your students still will accomplish exceptional music skills, but they’ll come away with so much more.
- Look at existing resources and systems and examine how they can work together to make significant social change. Instead of building something outside these systems, seek ways to work within.
How about for students?
- How they can best benefit from their program
- How you they help others in their program by example and leadership
- What could they do with what they’ve learned to make a difference
JAMM fosters peer-mentoring from a young age: children who know three notes can teach those who know four. Leadership and peer-mentoring opportunities are embedded at all levels of JAMM programming, This year JAMM hired five high school JAMM alumni to return to its elementary programs as paid teaching artists demonstrating to these young musicians that they have highly marketable and employable skills. At the middle school level, JAMM alumni volunteer as teaching assistants to continue building their teaching and leadership skills, as well as find meaningful ways for them return to their elementary schools in elevated roles.
Any more advice that you can give to young musicians embarking on a career of musical and social entrepreneurship?
Consider these elements when engaging in musical and social entrepreneurship:
Access: JAMM focuses its efforts on Juneau’s Title I schools where the number of families eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch is highest in the district. By having in-school programming for all kindergartners and 1st graders, JAMM ensures that all children have access to the lifelong benefits that music provides, tuition-free.
Social change: JAMM’s mission is social change through positive youth development and is grounded in Lerner’s 5 C’s of Positive Youth Development: competence, confidence, connection, caring and character. When these Five C’s are in place, youth thrive and then become motivated to help maintain that positive environment by becoming the 6th C: Contributors.
Peer-Mentoring: JAMM uses instrumental music to build confidence and sense of belonging and provide peer-mentoring opportunities, while bringing kids together from all different backgrounds.
Community Building through Ensemble: Dr. Abreu viewed the ensemble as a metaphor for an ideal society where each member strives together to contribute something of value for the greater good. Strive to work collectively in all aspects of your career.
Passion and Precision: these two characteristics are at the forefront of everything we do. Both are taught in tandem so that children can express themselves through music deeply and confidently. When working in careers focused on music as social entrepreneurship also have these two principles working hand-in-hand. Dr. Abreu was a master at this: first make an emotional pitch (witnessing an orchestra perform) and then follow-up with data that supports the goals of a community.