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Education Through Music Fights to Keep Music Education in NYC Classrooms

Organization uses music to help improve academic performances

Education Through Music StudentsWith 57% of New York City public schools not having a full-time certified music teacher on staff, Education Through Music (ETM) is doing everything in its power to bring music education into these classrooms.

Serving 15,000 K-8 students in 28 New York City schools, ETM brings the best educators and music resources to the classrooms of underserved kids in an effort to help turn low-performing schools into competitive learning environments.

“If a school is great it will stay in the community and families will stay in the community,” ETM’s Executive Director Kathy Damkoher tells Black Enterprise. “Parents make the decision of where they live based off the schools and that happens in Westchester. People pay a fortune to live in Westchester and that’s because they know the schools are great. Well I think children in NYC should have great schools and the parents should be able to say I love living here and I want to send my child to the school across the street because it’s a great school,” Damkoher adds.

With a June 4 performance just around the corner, Black Enterprise talked to Damkoher in detail about ETM’s enriching program and why music education is important to every child’s learning experience.

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BlackEnterprise.com: How are the schools that ETM partner with selected?

We pick the schools that are in really at-risk communities where there is low academic achievement and high poverty and [we] use music as a catalyst for students to want to come to school and stay in school. For us, and our community, it’s not about star search. [We’re] not bringing music into the schools because we’re looking for the next big performer. [We’re] bringing music into the schools because at the end of the day, we want these children to have a well-rounded and very strong education. We want them to be successful in school and successful in life. As an educator, I truly believe that music education has to be taught to everyone regardless of talent or ability. We have to use these programs to help children be successful in life and successful in their careers and be great doctors and lawyers. Whatever they choose in life, we just want them to be the best they can possibly be. For me, born and raised in the Bronx, I really want the children to be successful and have the same advantages that children in more affluent communities have.

What programs do you guys implement in these schools in order to help push music education?

We provide qualified music teachers and enforce the curriculum benchmarks of achievement for every grade level. There are certain requirements you learn in kindergarten, and certain requirements in first and second grade. We usually take a classroom and outfit it with everything from musical instruments, such as guitars and drums, to whatever else is needed to teach quality music. Once that is in place, we build a band and orchestra program. We start our orchestra program in 4th grade and our band program in 5th grade. In addition, we also work very closely with the classroom teachers and show them how music can support other learning areas. So we do a lot of integration between literacy, math and music education.

Are there any plans of ETM expanding beyond New York?

You know a few years ago, we started an affiliate in LA and it’s very successful. It actually started when a teacher of ours moved to LA and she saw the same conditions there where the children did not have quality music education. The budget in the Los Angeles community is very similar to those in New York where they just don’t allocate dollars for music educators. So, we moved our mission out there about six years ago, and now we’re serving thousands of children every single week and our goal is to keep doing better.

Tell us a little bit about your June 4 concert.

One of the things we like to do when we start a band and orchestra program in our schools, is give the children an opportunity to get a frame of reference for what other bands and orchestras look like. So we bring all the bands and orchestras together to Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem and they perform for each other and it’s absolutely wonderful. There’s such pride that our children have in not only the fact that they’ve learned [to play] an instrument, or learned more about teamwork, but that they get the opportunity to share that with other kids from different schools around the city. It truly is remarkable. 

To learn more about how you can help ETM’s efforts to keep music education in the classroom, visit their website at etmonline.org.