Guitars in the Classroom: Reinventing Music Integration in US Schools
Earlier this month, we launched our Good Neighbor program as a unique and interactive way to let our readers know about some of the most dynamic non-profit organizations operating in the US. Guitars in the Classroom was one of the finalists recognized by the program.
Written by Sam Soares
Guitars in the Classroom (GITC) is a humble non-profit that gets back to the root of sharing music. Jessica Baron, Executive Director, believes music is an instinctive human form of expression that needs to be recognized in today’s society. With all the American Idols and Guitar Heroes in the world, Guitars in the Classroom was founded a measure earlier than today’s cultural crazes.
Founded in 1998, GITC provides free integrated music making to over 800,000 students annually. GITC transforms education by training classroom teachers and school staff to play guitar, sing, teach and lead songs and write lyrics for learning with their preschool through 12th grade students. No musical experience is necessary to participate and succeed. Infusing academic lessons with music makes learning a more creative, successful and unforgettable experience for students and creates musical access for every child. GITC empowers teachers to pick up the guitar, and bring musical learning right into the regular classroom.
The Reason to Learn:
GITC trains, equips and encourages teachers to introduce musical learning across the regular academic curriculum to students during early childhood and elementary years when new skills and ideas can be absorbed at lightning speed thanks to rapid myelination , a process of brain development in which children make new synaptic connections. GITC provides innovative teacher training, musical supplies, and coaching so teachers can integrate song based learning on a daily basis for circle times, transitions, and for teaching lessons in math, social studies, science, language arts, and physical education.
This year, California Governor Jerry Brown proposed $8.3 billion in cuts across education, health care and welfare programs in laying out a plan to address the state's $15.7 billion shortfall, reported the Associated Press. It’s not surprising to Ms. Baron that the arts are among the first programs to get cut. She cites such decisions as short-sighted and misinformed because the arts are essential to student achievement.
“Music and all the arts boost student engagement in school and build critical abilities that lead to academic success,” she says.
But with schools’ funding partially dependent on standardized test results, many teachers are now being pressured to teach to the test and programs that do not directly focus on acquiring test based information are often thrown to the wayside. This often includes music education, “a tragedy for our kids and our culture,” Ms. Baron adds.
Many colleges long ago stopped requiring students majoring in Education to take a course in basic classroom music. As a result, teachers graduate with their degrees and credentials without any musical skills.
“Sadly, classroom pianos have gone the way of the stegosaurus, and regular daily singing has become an endangered species," says Baron. "Our job is to help integrated music recover by adding songs for learning and acoustic guitars find their place in the curriculum.”
GITC has offered teacher training in 31 states. 75% of the teachers GITC trains have no prior musical experience when they come to their first class. Once teachers achieve competence and confidence leading music, they integrate music on an ongoing basis for the duration of their careers in the classroom.
Donations keep Guitars in the Classroom afloat. By partnering up with leading musical products companies, including some of the world's largest and most experienced manufacturers of musical instruments, GITC is able to reach organizations outside the classroom as well. Godin Guitars, Martin Guitars, Hohner U.S.A., and many others contribute instruments to GITC’s guitar recycling program in which teachers can borrow an instrument while they learn to play, then return it to GITC when they are ready to purchase their own. GITC has over 1,000 guitars in circulation around the U.S. so new teachers can learn to play each year.
“Manufacturers are making a tremendous difference in the schools - a Nashville company called Samick Music Corp, makers of Greg Bennett guitars, recently donated 100 guitars to the cause," Baron says. "We signed a national partnership agreement with the Y to help companies that want to do some heavy lifting to support the Y’s afterschool guitar programs because there are children who don’t have instruments to play. Our role with the YMCAs is to help them along with their programs in the school, and they will help us reach out to more teachers. Everyone wins.”
John Hawkins, Treasurer for the Board of Directors of Guitars in the Classroom is the Division Vice President and General Manager of Samick Music Corporation in Gallatin, TN where he oversees marketing and manufacturing. Hawkins went to the YMCA as a child and understands the importance of music in a young person’s life.
“When I asked John if he wanted to help the YMCA, he said, ‘Sure, what do you need?’” Baron recalls. “I said we need 100 guitars for use by scholarship children. He said, ‘Done’.”
GITC is also supported by other music manufacturing companies, merchandising businesses and philanthropic foundations including The NAMM Foundation, GAMA (Guitars and Accessories Marketing Association), Guitar Center Charitable Giving, Fender Music Foundation and more.
Jack Johnson and GITC
Enter: laidback folk rock singer-songwriter, surfer and musician Jack Johnson. From his groovy riffs to surfing the north shore of Oahu, Jack Johnson’s involvement with charity makes him one of the “good guys” in the music biz – not to take anything away from Bono.
Away from the glitzy tourist spots in some of the famous parts of the Hawaiian Islands exist regular working communities where schools are pressed for funding and teachers require support to make music a daily reality for their students. It is in such schools where Jack and his partner and wife Kim have given GITC assistance through their Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation. Hawaii has a rich cultural tradition of music and dance, and GITC is working to support these in the classrooms. Developing programs takes time and determination. The Johnsons have both of those qualities and see a bright future for the role of music in Hawaiian classrooms, right alongside the teaching of eco-sustainability. GITC accomplishes this with their participation and through their Green Songbook ( www.greensongbook.com).
Events, festivals and contests are plentiful during December on the North Shore of Oahu. GITC Artist Relations Director Billy Stern partnered with the Surfer Poll - the “Academy Awards of surfing" - and through a generous donation of ukuleles from Hohner, GITC traveled back to the mainland with a ukulele autographed by the top surfers in the world and Jack Johnson himself.
A 1942 team-signed World Series baseball would be the equivalent of the surfer-signed ukulele. “The Triple J Uke” is the other instrument that will go up for auction featuring signatures from John Cruz (Hawaiian singer/songwriter), and Jake Shimabukuro (Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso) and Jack Johnson. GITC will auction off two ukuleles in 2012 and 2013 to raise funds to support and grow GITC programs in Hawaii and beyond.
GITC in a Nutshell
Presently, training programs are active in 19 states. GITC is all over the country reaching to the southern, northern and mid western states, but its strongest programs are in California. There are 46 teacher trainers holding classes up to 24 teachers each. As a result, a single group of teachers in a class reaches about 2,300 students within eight weeks.
“It’s exciting to me that there are so many people who want to get involved, and many talented trainers who want to share what they know with classroom teachers," Baron says. "And GITC is thrilled to bring everyone together in a program that creates jobs, creates new music makers, and improves education."
Each teacher reaches and inspires between 76 and 99 students per week with free music making- that is true leverage. GITC has trained over 9,000 teachers and school staff members since its beginning. GITC will launch their new redeveloped website in two weeks.
For more information, visit http://www.guitarsintheclassroom.org/
Be sure to check out the July issue of Business Review USA, featuring a profile of Good Neighbor winner PCI Global.