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New Partnership Brings Rock and Roll to N.Y.C. Schools

By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

At a time when many districts struggle to preserve their music programs in the face of budget constraints, the New York City system is partnering with outside organizations to extend theirs. 

The Berklee College of Music and Little Kids Rock, an organization focused on restoring music education in public schools, are teaming up with the New York City Department of Education to expand the district's Modern Band program through a partnership called Amp Up NYC.

14-03-21 Amp Up NYC Launch Event - On stage 1.jpg

While "modern band" programs have been in schools across the country, including New York City, for years (Little Kids Rock was founded in 2002), this is the organization's first district-level partnership. Over three years, the pilot program will reach 600 schools and more than 60,000 students. Berklee will provide a free online curriculum of sheet music, history, and modern songs recordings. Berklee's contributions will be geared toward older students, while Little Kids Rock will provide teaching materials focused on younger students.

"This is a real step forward by the New York City Department of Education," said Charly Schwartz, the director of Amp Up NYC, in an interview with Education Week. "This is them saying how important art education is."

The Amp Up program will train music teachers in the district on teaching modern band, familiarizing them with model lesson plans, content, and implementation. After the two-day training session, each teacher receives credits to purchase instruments for free, provided by Amp Up.

"We will work with existing music teachers in schools to enhance their current music education programming," said Schwartz. "It's directive, but not prescriptive."

Teachers will also have access to online curriculum and teaching resources from Little Kids Rock and Berklee, which will provide resources from its pulse music method, geared toward older students.

Modern band instruction does not replace the district's other music programs, such as marching band, orchestra, or chorus, but rather, adds an additional access point to music as a way to reach more students. The program will let kids work with music that they know and listen to, including hip hop, hard rock, and punk. They are also given the opportunity to test their skills on multiple instruments, such as guitar, drums, and keyboards, as well as vocals.

"Students who see themselves reflected in the curriculum feel a deeper connection to their school," said David Wish, founder and executive director of Little Kids Rock.

New York City chose to partner with Amp Up as a way to leverage their students' "cultural and community experiences in a very unique way," said Paul King, the executive director for arts education in the New York City district, in a statement provided to Education Week"It helps us reach kids and students with diverse musical experiences that they may not be getting at this point."

Extending music education may have broader academic benefits for young people. Recent research suggests that the complexity involved in practicing and performing music may help students' cognitive development.

"We're hoping that New York City can be a model for working directly with districts and that this will become a model that other districts can embrace and that can be replicated in other districts," said Schwartz.

The program officially kicked off last Friday at a Manhattan middle school.

Photo: Little Kids Rock & Berklee College of Music Launch Amp Up NYC, a Partnership to Expand Music Education in New York City Public Schools. Amp Up NYC event on March 21, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

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