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Duluth Edison music program lauded

It's not unusual to see a group of kids jamming together on guitars, drums and ukuleles before school starts at Duluth Edison's North Star Academy. "Last week, they stuck out a sombrero and got a Jolly Rancher and two dollar bills, and they thoug...

t4.17.17 Bob King -- 042017.N.DNT.EDISONc3 -- Second grader Linnaea Wright-Meyer sings while playing her ukulele during music class at North Star Academy Monday morning. Ukuleles are smaller and make a better fit for the children than a traditional guitar. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com
Second grader Linnaea Wright-Meyer sings while playing her ukulele during music class at North Star Academy Monday morning. Ukuleles are smaller and make a better fit for the children than a traditional guitar. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

 

It's not unusual to see a group of kids jamming together on guitars, drums and ukuleles before school starts at Duluth Edison's North Star Academy.

"Last week, they stuck out a sombrero and got a Jolly Rancher and two dollar bills, and they thought that was pretty awesome," said Aundrea Kinziger, music specialist and teacher at the school.

The kids' enthusiasm for making music is fostered by intentional efforts at the school toward using music instruction to help educate "the whole child."

"It builds student confidence," said Bonnie Jorgenson, head of the charter schools. "Students who might struggle with more academic subjects can excel in (music, art or language). That can help them improve elsewhere."

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Duluth Edison was recently recognized by the National Association of Music Merchants for its commitment and access to music education. Its schools were among 527 designated as "Best Communities for Music Education" this year. Also in Minnesota, the Anoka Hennepin, Osseo, Minnetonka, Mounds View, Marshall and Elk River school districts were recognized.

Schools and districts are evaluated on funding, staffing, commitment to standards and access to music instruction, and applications are chosen by the Music Research Institute at the University of Kansas.

Duluth Edison employs six full-time music instructors for its 1,424 students, and offers the subject in various forms every other day for 35 minutes. The longer school day - 7½ hours at the Raleigh campus and 7 hours and 15 minutes at North Star - allows the schools to offer music more often than other area schools, with most holding a shorter day.

School officials tout the time spent on music education, early introductions to instruments, elite jazz and singing groups at the middle school level and the use of technology to help kids with practice and learning as things that help set them apart.

The school invests more than $8,000 each year on student subscriptions to software programs geared toward various age groups that, for example, listen to a student practicing at home play a piece, and then show them what was and wasn't played correctly.

"The goal is to make practicing more interesting and effective," said band director John Achartz.

Other programs break down the composition process and teach about different sounds.

It's not meant to replace teachers, Achartz said, but it's another tool for kids.

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"Everything they do on their own improves what we do as an ensemble," he said.

Like many area elementary schools, kids in kindergarten through fourth grade sing and have access to xylophone-style instruments and recorders, but they begin learning to play the ukulele in kindergarten.

"Ukulele use in schools is growing," Kinziger said, because the instrument is portable and popular, and works well to teach theory and train young ears. "It's amazing how the little ones will hand it back to me and say 'it's not in tune.' And I will play it, and they are right."

There is plenty of research that shows the educational benefits of music, linking it to the overall success of a student, Kinziger said, noting that music is everywhere: "It doesn't just go away the minute they walk out the door."

Seventh-grader Aidan Fitzpatrick plays the French horn in band, and bass in the audition-only jazz band. He also unofficially plays the drums and guitar available in the music room.

The option to play multiple instruments is "a neat thing about the school," he said. "Music is pretty huge for me."

Related Topics: MUSICEDUCATION
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