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Art in the Classroom

These Bronx children in an Education Through Music-led class aren’t just playing—they’re learning how to read music, keep time, think creatively, and work together.

June 2010

Budget cuts and an emphasis on standardized testing are threatening  to erode years of painstaking advocacy to bring arts back to the City’s public schools—despite clear evidence that they significantly contribute to childrens’ ability to achieve in their academic subjects. The arts are also important for developing the conceptual thinking and social skills necessary for today’s job market. To make sure the arts stay in schools, The Trust is making two grants to groups that will expand and develop music and architecture programs that complement other coursework.

The Sound of Success

“The integration of music supports achievement in other core areas and helps build cognitive development,” says Louise Sedotto, a principal in the Bronx who brought Education Through Music (ETM) to her school in 2005. “Ninety-seven percent of students are on, or above, grade level in math, and I truly believe this improvement is due in large part to ETM’s involvement.”

And in a City where drop-out rates and truancy are big problems, students at schools with music programs are more likely to come to school each day and to graduate. “Some children who have difficulty focusing in the classroom are transformed in music class. They are attentive and eager to learn,” says one teacher. “Music helps them to build confidence and self esteem. It helps them when speaking up in class.”

A $40,000 grant to Education Through Music is helping teach 6,400 Bronx students how to read music, play instruments, and use music software. Principals and teachers are being coached on how to create and fund strong music programs for years to come. Sedotto continues: “Education Through Music brought in certified music teachers, enough to offer every child in the school a chance to learn music, a chance that most of our children do not have outside of school. Together, we have formalized a comprehensive music program for students in grades K through 5 and started a school band and an after-school chorus.”

“We have helped schools apply for grants from borough presidents, foundations, and even alumni, for everything from a new PA system for the auditorium to getting risers for young musicians to stand on,” says ETM’s development director, Katherine Canning. The organization often stays at a school for several years and makes sure that music continues to ring out after it moves on.

Building Knowledge on. . . Buildings

Leonisa Ardizzone, president of theSalvadori Center and the Built Environment loves that ah-hah moment when teachers in her professional development workshops realize, “I can teach math by having my students look at the front of a building.”

With a grant of $25,000, architects and engineers at the Center are training 22 teachers at 3 schools on the basics of how buildings stand up and how to lead model making and mapping projects. Most projects start with questions: How does a crane work? How are skyscrapers built? Field trips start with challenges: A walk around the neighborhood becomes a count of architectural styles; a trek across the Brooklyn Bridge ends in calculating how many feet of cable are needed to keep it from falling into the East River.

“Kids go from never hearing the word ‘architecture’ to noticing trusses, cantilevers, and cornices all around them,” says Kathryn Slocum, director of external affairs at the Center. “They get very excited and bring their observations back into the classroom.”

Salvadori educators take the lead at first, but as the semester goes on, classroom teachers take over and work with Center staff to integrate the Salvadori curriculum into their math, social studies, art, or science classes. Our grant will also be used to help 600 students sharpen math skills by studying the geometry on building facades, or learn about nomadic peoples and build a model and full-scale teepee. Some of the older students will take part in a design challenge with professional architects and engineers at the Winter Garden downtown.

“We are able to make a pretty good case to school principals that we can meet their math content and improve writing and research skills,” continues Ardizzone. “Instead of seeing us as an add-on, we say ‘bring us in when you are setting your goals.’”

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