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Staying in Tune

While many school districts are cutting back on cultural programming, North Carolina’s Appalachian country is expanding its music curriculum. North Carolina’s Junior Appalachian Music program or “JAM” teaches 3rd through 8th graders traditional bluegrass and Celtic music. The program is now in nine schools with three more schools scheduled to include it this fall.

Seven years ago, Sparta Elementary School counselor Helen White observed a classroom of third-grade students studying flash cards of traditional Appalachian musical instruments. White was shocked to discover the students could identify the instruments, but didn’t know what they sounded like. A musician with an interest in Appalachian culture, White designed the JAM program to help students learn more about their musical heritage.

Area teachers have noticed an increase in the confidence level of the participating students. Said fifth-grade language arts teacher, Roxanne Edwards, "This region’s culture and accent has a stigma attached to it of not being educated, but students connect this music to the region’s culture, and they see how difficult it is to play and it boosts their self-image.” For at risk students, the program is particularly important, said band instructor Tammy Sawyer. “JAM really gives them the opportunity to get the positive attention they need.”

JAM is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the North Carolina Arts Council, and local contributors.

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