SPS music education program earns national recognition

Published 4:37 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The NAMM Foundation recently honored Suffolk Public Schools with its Best Communities for Music Education designation for its outstanding commitment to music education. 

SPS is one of 830 school districts across 43 states awarded the designation by the foundation.

To qualify for the Best Communities designation, SPS answered detailed questions about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program, and community music-making programs. Responses were verified by school officials and reviewed by The Music Research Institute at the University of Kansas.

Email newsletter signup

Coordinator of Fine and Performing Arts Joleen Neighbours, PhD., said music education, as is all arts education, is detrimental to students’ full success. 

“As a part of 21st Century Learning Skills, creativity, critical thinking, communication, citizenship, and collaboration are all intrinsically taught in all that music classes offer,” Neighbours said in the release. “Studying music is about team building and learning your role in a bigger, greater world. Our Suffolk students are taught by the best and brightest educators, supported by their schools and community, to understand how music ties all other learning together.”

Neighbours said music is life-changing, and Suffolk Public Schools leads with that.

“We believe in arts equity — every child, no matter what, deserves a high-quality arts education that inspires, teaches, and motivates. We always lead with equity.”

She said the designation as the Best Community for Music Education is a testament to the work the school district’s teachers put into their students’ well-being and education and the quality of work that the students create. SPS and the city of Suffolk, are committed to the whole child, she added, noting the designation will have lasting positive effects on all of the programs. 

“The support from the division and the city is partly why we received this award,” Neighbours said. “This award will assist for generations to come, continuing a legacy of music in Suffolk.”

Since the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 and a stated emphasis on a well-rounded education, many school districts have re-committed to music and arts education programs.

During the pandemic, music and arts programs were vital to keeping students engaged in school. ESSA provides designated funding for well-rounded educational opportunities through Title IV Part A Student Academic Success and Achievement grants. NAMM Foundation research has revealed that school districts are widely using these grants to address instructional gaps in music and arts education access. 

Teachers in the SPS program agree with the importance of music education for their students.

“Music education is important because it encompasses socio-emotional learning in the whole child in a way that they are all successful regardless of where they come from,” said Christopher Stadler, music teacher at Northern Shores Elementary School 

Dante Copeland, a chorus teacher at Kings Fork High School agrees. “Music education not only reinforces what students learn in core subjects, but it also gives them “an avenue to express themselves and go beyond the boundaries of their normal thought patterns,” he said.

KFHS 11th grader Noah McDuffie said it also teaches many aspects of different cultures, beliefs and thoughts. 

“I love music class because it’s fun; the people are great,” McDuffie said. “It’s one of the only classes where I can relax, be myself, and show my talent. We have opportunities outside of the class to perform and be ourselves. I enjoy choir because I’m able to show what I can do, and I enjoy singing, whether by myself or with the class. I love to be here.” 

Research into music education continues to demonstrate educational/cognitive and social skill benefits for children who make music. After two years of music education, researchers found that participants showed more substantial improvements in how the brain processes speech and reading scores than their

less-involved peers, according to the SPS release. Also students who are involved in music are not only more likely to graduate high school, but also to attend college as well. 

In addition, everyday listening skills are stronger in musically trained children than those without music training, the school district release states. Listening skills are closely tied to perceiving speech in a noisy background, paying attention, and keeping sounds in memory. Later in life, individuals who took music lessons as children show stronger neural processing of sound. Young adults and even older adults who have not played an instrument for up to 50 years show enhanced neural processing compared to their peers. Social benefits include conflict resolution, teamwork skills, and giving and receiving constructive criticism.

Now in its 24th year, the Best Communities for Music Education designation is awarded to districts that demonstrate outstanding achievement in efforts to provide music access and education to all students.

For additional information on the award and the NAMM Foundation, visit nammfoundation.org.