AH: So hello, it’s Anita here and welcome to this month’s podcast. In this episode I’m talking with Penny Swift, executive director, and Katherine Damkohler, director of national activities for Education Through Music which is a New York-based organisation working with under-resourced schools to provide music education as a core subject and a catalyst to improve academic achievement, motivation for school and self-confidence. Why I thought you’d be interested is because of its success, both in terms of its growth over the last few years, in an environment which is, as we know, is really difficult for music education, and because of its focus on using evaluation not only to prove its impact but also importantly to understand what works and how to make it even more effective. So I’m particularly pleased to have Education Through Music on the show because I’ve been following them for years, so a massive welcome Penny and Katherine – thank you so much for joining us here today.
KD: Well we’re always delighted when we can share our mission and tell everyone about what we’ve been accomplishing. Of course, whatever we say, we invite everyone to come and see it first hand because that’s when you can really see what we’re accomplishing.
AH: Brilliant, I’ll be over next weekend then.
KD: OK, it’s a typical New York thing, you’ve got to come down here. You know, and I have to say that we’re both from New York because you’d never know it by our accents.
AH: Absolutely. OK, before I go on to asking the main questions, can I ask you both how did you end up where you are today, and why is it so important to you personally?
KD: Actually Anita, this is Kathy and I’m going to start first, only because the first and second questions kind of blend in. I have been an educator all my life. About 25 years ago I transitioned from elementary teaching into a leadership position. I became a principal of a school and it was a school that was slated for closure. I’m going to make a very long story short. I met two lovely gentlemen who had just started a 501(c)(3) called Education Through Music with the mission that you’ve just shared. Using music as a catalyst and integrating into the academic subject to support academic achievement and general development. It sounds wonderful but when an attorney and a businessman bring in an educator, a mission statement, the hair on the back of my neck kind of goes up. So I took it and I really designed a complete music education programme for the school that I’m currently the principal at. And it wasn’t to save the school, because I knew that we couldn’t, but it would give the children a very well-rounded learning experience. And throughout this conversation you’ll hear Penny and I really talk about equity and access and it really is so true to our mission – that every child is served in a school. So I implemented a music education programme. What they didn’t tell me when I took over the school is that 75% of the children that we were serving that year were very challenged. Many of them were reading below the 29th percentile, which is the catch-all for every emotional and social problem. Now here’s where the story gets really quick. Four years later, the school didn’t close, but at that time President Clinton gave us a National School of Excellence award because the children that we were serving who were achieving well below, were now achieving way above and the only variable we had at that time was music education. So at that point I left and became executive director of ETM. I stayed here for 25 years and we went from serving 200 children to currently serving, under Penny’s leadership, 34,000 children. There we go. So that’s ETM’s story and how I got involved with it. Music has always been a part of my life, although I wasn’t a music teacher, but I’ve always felt that children needed a hook, something to get them excited about learning. I always say to parents, ‘Find that hook’, and if you do you will motivate your children and they will learn. And the art does that better than anything. It generally not only motivates them but helps them connect to those transferable skills that make them great readers, great mathematicians, and lifelong learners. Education Through Music is not Star Search by any means, it’s really about providing a quality, all-round learning experience for the children we serve.
PS: Ironically, mine and Kathy’s histories run somewhat parallel. I’m a lifelong educator myself, and started out as a New York City public school, high school teacher, and over the years took a little bit of a transformation in my career and wound up in the early childhood field. Ironically it’s about two years ago this week that I had the opportunity to join ETM as the chief operating officer. As the organisation was really poised for substantial growth, there was a great recognition on behalf of the board that in order for the executive director to be more outwardly facing at some point and to provide stability to the internal portion of the organisation, a chief operating officer was probably the best way to go. And that’s how I started my career at ETM. My passion is in education, first, second and third. Part of the irony is that I don’t have a music background and I think that’s what drives me as much as anybody else, believe it or not, for the simple reason that I want to make sure that people have an experience that I didn’t have. I am a product of New York City public schools education with their old budget cuts and we did not have music education. So I was very fortunate to be able to walk into an organisation where I was able to marry the talents I have in the operational field as well as to continue to ensure that under-resourced communities received truly, the meaning of a well-rounded education.
KD: And it was the perfect time for Penny to come in, because as she was transitioning from COO to CEO, I was transitioning out of Executive Director into helping cities across the United States become ETM’s. About 15 years ago we started an affiliate office in LA which is incredibly successful today. And we’ve just launched our second affiliate in Denver, Colorado, so we’re very excited and we’re in conversations with other cities in order to establish affiliates to bring music education into schools. And it’s a very sustainable model which many organisations can’t say.
AH: Lovely, that’s brilliant. And just before we go on to other questions about ETM, can you just tell me a little bit about the context for music education in the US in schools at the moment? Because in England, particularly, it’s quite shaky to be frank. So, yeah, is music education compulsory?
KD: You know, on the books it is. I think unfortunately, on the state charters there is a line for music education as part of a comprehensive and sequential education, however implementing that, budget cuts come and music educators are the first ones to be cut. And I find that large cities, urban environments, do not have music education. I’d say, even in New York, about 50% of the schools do not have music education and this is a cultural hub. Whereas outside New York City, you’ll find a more affluent community where there are very strong music education programmes. And then ensembles are built and opportunities for children to use those skills to get into great schools. So there’s the haves and have nots very much so in the US, in terms of music.
PS: And although it’s in the New York State charter that students in New York City are supposed to receive music education, the way the principals can get around that is that they’ll being in a teaching artist for a short period of time and provide more of an enrichment programme for maybe six, eight or 12 weeks. It’s not touching every student or every child in the school, whereas in ETM we provide equity and access to every child at the school. So it’s not like someone’s walking in and some second graders are getting music, or the fourth grade, which is how they kind of skirt around the charter.
KD: We want to put ourselves out of business, like any good not-for-profit should, and let every child have access to quality music education. We may not see it in our lifetime, but we’re still working hard to see that happen.
AH: And actually, can I jump ahead a little bit, because it seems like an appropriate time to ask you about the funding model. So how do you actually fund it, and the sustainability for schools?
KD: We are a diversified funding model, and I’ll let Penny who has the budget in front of her right now funnily enough.
PS: I think one of the things, and Kathy mentioned before about how we’re so sustainable, is because our intention is very much to put ourselves out of business. Our intention is that every teacher that we hire, and that’s originally on our payroll, is placed within the school district on what we call a DOE (Department of Education) to ask for patience that they will be hired by the DoE at some point. And that’s our intent on how we can put ourselves out of business. But we also ensure that the school’s have some skin in the game. So for every dollar we spend there’s about 40 cents on the dollar that the DoE reimburses us. So our lift on every dollar is about 60%, it’s about a 40/60 split.
KD: And the 60% is very diversified. There are foundations, corporations, individuals, a big gala which is happening, but a significant part of the budget, maybe 15% of the budget, comes from the gala.
PS: Yes, about 15%. But we have a very generous board. We currently have 22 members and they’re very generous not just with their time but with financial resources as well. And then we diversify our fundraising and our revenue from the development side of it between major gifts, individual giving, foundations, government – so we recognise that for every school we have to take on there’s a heavy lift, and that sometimes impacts our ability to grow as well. As much as we’d love to grow, we recognise that there’s a financial lift. But we certainly ensure that the schools that we partner with have to contribute something to the financial success of the programme at least.
KD: And our affiliates are the same way. We help design their financial base so they do have a very diversified funding stream. We do get income from the schools, we’ve been a very healthy organisation.
AH: So when you actually go into a new school, are you saying that the school will pay a certain proportion of that initial one-year programme or whatever it might be?
PS: That’s correct. They sign a memorandum of agreement, or MOA, and they pay us a portion of our costs as well because remember it’s not just the teacher they’re paying for, right, with that teacher comes mentoring and coaching support for that teacher, observation support, support for the principal, and we provide concert support, a curriculum benchmark, an accompanist for the spring and winter concerts, and most importantly, the big piece of it is the staff and professional development that each teacher receives. Each teacher receives equal to 100 hours of staff development throughout the year. So that is very much the success of our programme and something that we’re very passionate about. The child’s success is really based on the teacher’s success.
KD: And it starts also, Anita, with the principal leadership of the school, you know. Leaderships have more autonomy over their budgets now than they’ve ever had before, and there are discretionary funds that they could decide where to allocate those monies. And after speaking with Penny, prior to me or any of the ETM staff, I think we do a really good job of helping them to understand how allocating dollars towards a music education position really benefits everyone in the entire school. And you do see a paradigm shift. Our goal is to walk into a school that is really doom and gloom, has nothing. And then a year later parents, elder stakeholders in the school cannot wait to come back in. There is a real paradigm shift from that very unhappy place to learn, to this very exciting, motivating place to learn. And we see that every time we take on a school.
AH: Well, I’ll go on to ask you a little bit more about your advocacy efforts. So just to clarify, round about what percentage of the costs does the school contribute?
PS: Close to 40%. We aim for 40%, it could be closer to 37% or 38%.
AH: So would it be that after a year you expect the school to take on the tutor and pay all those costs themselves or maybe with extra fundraising? How does that work?
PS: So, our first conversation with the principal is that to really partner with us, we have an expectation within two to three years that the principal finds the funding to hire that teacher. If the principal doesn’t, there’s a good possibility that teacher’s going to leave and find a position with the DoE somewhere else. So in order to provide consistency of care for the programme and consistency of care for the children, we certainly encourage the principal to really try and figure that out. We’re not here to be a safety net for 10 years for the principal, to provide a comprehensive music education programme, at a reduced cost, right. We’re here to set them up for success. To show them how we can be their ‘assistant principal’ on music education, especially for those principals who may not have a music background. They could be the experts in classroom management or pedagogical skills elsewhere, but they may not be musical experts. So we’re there to support them. But it can’t be sustainable to be in a programme for 10 years. They have to find a way to finally hire that teacher.
KD: And you know, with the care and feeding we provide our teachers, many of the principals are calling Penny up three months after their programme is starting to say, ‘Look, I need to hire this teacher’. That’s very exciting, but we often say, ‘No, you have to wait’, because you need that teacher to have a good year. But it’s not fair for the teachers you know. We’re not in competition with the DoE. We want these teachers to have a real career in education, to have all the benefits that the DoE can provide for them. We are kind of a segway into that world.
PS: We’re not in competition with the DoE. You know the salaries paid by the DoE on a city contract are certainly above what we’d be able to pay our teachers.
AH: So could you just clarify, because a lot of the listeners won’t be from the United States or know much about how the education system works in New York. So, what’s the Department of Education and what’s its relationship with the teachers you employ, or what will their eventual relationship be?
PS: So the New York City Department of Education is, I believe, one of the largest teacher unions within the United States. It’s also a very strong and powerful union from a very political standpoint.
KD: It’s involved in 1,100 schools, which doesn’t include the high schools, and I think with high schools that’s 1,800 schools.
PS: Yeah. So they have a strong power, very strong lobbying as well. They are well paid individuals, they’re certainly paid a fair market value for their position. But it’s certainly an arena in which we can’t compete with when it comes to the benefits that they’re provided under DoE contracts, nor the salaries. Nor do we want to be in competition. Again, our goal is that the teacher is certainly working towards, if they’re not already being a certified teacher, so that they can be hired. We support them being hired. We consider that a success when the principal wants to hire a teacher.
AH: So all teachers in New York schools are hired by the DoE, including those music tutors or music teachers?
PS: With the exception of parochial schools and charter schools. If it’s a New York City public school, yeah.
AH: Ah right. So for that brief period when you’re working with the school, you’re employing those teachers because you’re mentoring them, you’re giving them all that support, and then it’s a case of they get employed after that one year?
PS: Yeah, if not a year, no more than three years. But then when the teacher’s hired, while we consider that a success, that’s not where our support ends. We will continue to partner with the school at a different support level if the principal is still interested. So as I mentioned before, the principal may not be able to go in and do the classroom observation. We will continue to provide staff development to that teacher because the New York City DoE may not have the bandwidth or the resources to do so. So although it’s a DoE teacher we’re still providing staff development if the principal chooses to partner with us. We’ll still provide instructional supervisor’s support and observation, or we’ll sit with the principal and sit in on an observation to help support them in that realm also. It’s very much about supporting the teacher continuously.
KD: They get very strong evaluation several times during the year, and we want to make sure that they get tenured, where they get some job security in that position. So we provide them with all the tools that they need. But also being a partner comes with, you know if we get a major grant on instruments, we provide resources to the school, we’ve gotten sometimes just some great materials and supplies for the classrooms that are just invaluable to the teachers. We also provide them with professional development during the summer, the opportunity to take off-certification or Kodaly certification, or eventually Dalcroze certification. So there are many opportunities for the teachers to grow even within their own vocation, which is absolutely key.
AH: That’s fantastic. And you fund that?
KD: We fund a significant part of that training. There are, like Penny says, about 100 hours of training that are free to the teachers under the ETM umbrella, but the significant discount to get off-training as an ETM teacher is absolutely remarkable.
AH: I’m not surprised, that sounds incredible. So one of my questions was, what does the delivery model involve, so obviously you’ve started telling me about the aspect which is around the music teachers and all the support they get – which seems to be absolutely central to your delivery model. Is there anything else you wanted to tell me about what’s unique about your pedagogy, genres or the instruments you use, that type of thing?
KD: The curriculum, I think, is probably giving teachers benchmarks of achievement for every level that goes with the national standards of the arts and the state standards of the arts, holding teachers accountable to teaching those knowledges and skills that children need to learn on each grade level and assessing those skills. Because there has to be some level of teacher assessment that children are learning musical skills. It’s very, very important.
PS: Yeah, and just to add to that. New York City has adopted what’s called the Danielson Framework. It’s an assessment tool that principals use to assess the effectiveness of a teacher in a classroom. We actually have aligned the Danielson Framework with the music curriculum so we can ensure that just like in math, and science and social studies, when a teacher’s observed that the same rubric that is being used to assess their effectiveness as any other classroom teacher, is being used in the same sort of criteria to assess the music teacher as well. So we brought somebody in specifically to do that. So our teachers are well aware of what the benchmarks are and how to be successful, and what that rubric looks like for them as opposed to what it looks like for the maths, or english, or social studies teacher.
AH: Ah right. So do you provide a kind of curriculum that your music tutors follow, or a framework for a curriculum?
DK: It’s a framework. There are benchmarks of achievement for each grade level. But we don’t take the art out of teaching, we don’t give the teacher a lesson plan. We give them a skill that they have to learn, in dynamics and tempo, and they design lesson plans that are approved by their field supervisors and reviewed by their field supervisors and observed by their field supervisors. You know, every lesson has to be engaging, every lesson has to give an opportunity for a child to move and sing and learn, and you want to make sure that the lessons are very stimulating and very much involved for the students. So they are excited to come to the class.
AH: So, it’s what we in the UK call ‘whole class teaching’ so you’re mainly teaching musical skills through instrumental teaching. Is that right?
KD: You can, yes, absolutely. The voice is very important. There are lots of instruments in the classroom like the glockenspiels and small percussion instruments. Eventually when our students get to 4th grade, which they’re about nine years old, we introduce ensembles so there’s opportunities for bands and orchestra. They can select to be in that, there’s also a select chorus at the school for the children. But singing is a part of the curriculum.
AH: And then is there anything else about your style of teaching? Is it particularly influenced by anybody? You mentioned Orff – is that an integral part of your teaching?
KD: Well I think good teaching should be very diversified. I think it’s like when you decorate a house, you know only go one style. You want to bring in a variety of different furniture styles. You want to bring in a more eclectic style. So even the choice of music from classical to more contemporary music, I think children, it’s like when they teach reading. I taught reading for many years through early childhood and you diversify the genres that you bring in. You do a variety of different things and eventually children choose what they love. But you do the same thing in good music education.
AH: And you mention on your website about your approach being very child-centred and I wonder if that extends to, particularly mayber when they’re older, them being able to have a say or direct their own learning journey?
PS: Yeah. I mean that’s specifically true in our middle-school model. Typically, the middle schools in New York City run sixth, seventh and eighth grade, and that’s when students have the opportunity, around seventh and eighth grade, to select the type of competencies they’d like to see themselves involved in. So it could be world drumming, it might be guitar, it might be chorus, it might be bands or orchestra. So we recognise that at that age is when children and students want to have a sense of autonomy about choices about what they want to participate in. They certainly have that opportunity to make those selections in some of their other educational courses. So rather than continuing to provide them at that point, or insist upon comprehensive music education like a general music class, we give them more of a choice of what they’d like to opt in to. One of the other choices might be a music technology class which is something that we’ve really been trying to provide. We’ve had some support from various funders to help us with that and our goal is to ensure that if they could use this music technology in the middle-school stages, hopefully they’ll continue it at the high-school stages, and possibly help with workforce development at some point as well.
AH: Oh wow, that’s brilliant. So you work across both what we call in this country, primary education up to the age of 11, as well as then secondary education which is 11-18. And there might be an example where you’re working in a school with a young person and you might see them in the next school they move on to. Would that happen? So just because you’re working across both those levels of schools you could actually continue that child’s education through quite an amount of their education?
PS: Well, that’s ultimately our goal. To make sure that there’s that kind of consistency right. We don’t want to cut any child off at the knees at age 12 or 13 and say, ‘We’re so glad that we were able to provide this for you’. Currently we’re not in the high school space, we’re in conversation with two high schools not for the 2019-20 but the following school year. It’s certainly our goal and we’ve been working on it for quite some time. So right now our middle school ends at the eighth grade which is about 13-14 years old. But we’re also, in order to get to a high school, we’re ensuring that we’re in elementary and middle schools that feed into that district high school. It wouldn’t behove anybody if we went to a high school where the children didn’t have any general music education prior to them. It would be a little more challenging if it was the first time they’d had a general music education class. So we’re trying to build the first floor and then the second floor before we get to the third floor, ensuring that we’re in a substantial number of elementary schools that feed into a number of middle schools that then feed into high schools.
AH: Yeah, absolutely, that makes total sense. And how many schools are you in, in New York at the moment and what percentage is that of the schools there?
PS: So currently this year we’re in 65 partner schools, and our goal next year is to be in 70 to 72 partner schools. And then the following year, close to 80 partner schools. But there are roughly 1,800 schools in New York, and out of that 1,800 we believe maybe 57% of them don’t have a comprehensive music education class. Even if it’s 50% out of that 1,800 that brings that number down to 900 and if we’re in 65, you’re talking seven to eight per cent.
KD: Except that over the years we’ve had teachers higher. We’ve had 30 or 40 teachers out there who were originally part of ETM and have now gone on to be part of the DoE which we’re very excited about.
AH: Yeah, that’s amazing in terms of legacy. And so you were saying that you will have a tutor or tutors in schools for one to three years, and how does that work? Do they go in for one day a week generally, or is it more than that?
PS: It really depends on the size of the school because we see every student in every class, even those special needs classrooms as well. Nobody is excluded. So if we have a school with 500 students or so, the teacher’s probably there five days a week. A school with maybe 150 to 200 students we certainly might be able to manage a teacher there two days a week.
AH: It’s great to hear you saying about special educational needs classes as well. And I guess you need specific specialisms for that?
KD: You need to.
PS: We do. At the beginning of the school year we bring in an outside facilitator – we actually fly her in – she’s so great at what she does and she comes each year with great demand from our staff. And we continue that training throughout the year providing support for integrated cohort classes as well. And that’s an ICT classroom where there are mainstream students alongside students with an ILP or special needs.
KD: In New York City today your classroom is quite large. You can be on 25 to 30 students in a classroom. There’s such a range of learning challenges and abilities within that class. And giving the responsibility to a new teacher on how they’re going to excite and energise children to want to learn. You have to give them the tools to be able to do that. They absolutely need tools to be successful in that classroom. And they need the support, and that’s one of the bedrocks of ETM that we have such a tremendous support team for these teachers and a network where they can talk to each other and come after school to the office where there are resources and materials where they feel part of a community of learners. You know I say that when you educate a teacher you educate a nation. We definitely want our children to have that access and use every part of their brain which we definitely believe that music education does.
AH: Definitely does, doesn’t it, and there’s loads of evidence to show that now. Moving on to another question, you’ve got a lot of evidence of impact and you’ve clearly invested a lot in evaluation. Can you just talk me through what you’re aiming to achieve beyond those musical outcomes, so the social and personal outcomes, and also perhaps give me some examples of that. I’m particularly interested in how you make sure that those young people who find it difficult to engage in learning, for whatever reason, are able to engage.
PS: I mean so, I think you’re referring specifically to our Evaluation and Impact Report, right, and thank you for recognising that Anita. A lot of work went into it. It’s a baseline year of information that we’re starting to gather, right. Our goal is really to have a longitudinal study where we can follow students over years especially with our intent of getting into a high school. The impact on graduation rates or the impact on how music education might support students with their college application process right. Just a couple of things to point out from the Impact Report is that, children shared how they attended school when they would have originally skipped school for that day had it not been for their music education class. And how students shared the social and emotional impact about how they were able to make friends because of their music class. You know there’s such a big conversation, I’m going to say in the United States, but I think it’s outside the United States as well, about bullying. And not that I’m saying that we can alleviate bullying altogether, but if children feel connected, and they feel there are friends, that’s a great source of comfort for them. Students who feel engaged and comfortable and confident will come to school and at the end of the day they will learn. So we like to think of music as the catalyst for that sort of education. We’re not here to say that music is necessarily growing their maths score or growing their language arts score, but it’s actually a catalyst in supporting it, and it’s also again, the hook that’s bringing them into the school. Students who are present will learn. But, our goal is really to do more of a longitudinal study where we can see greater impact year over year.
KD: Our evaluation started several years ago in the organisation, but not at the level it is now because we really wanted to do the impact. It really started because we wanted to improve. We wanted to make sure that our teacher training was really the best the teachers could have. So we need to evaluate that. We needed to make sure that our benchmarks in our curriculum was really supporting the classroom and the teacher and the children were learning. So we needed to evaluate that. From the beginning, all our evaluation was really very focussed internal, because we wanted to be the best we could be. And we stayed under the radar for a very long time until we felt that we really had it together. We’re so proud of what we’ve accomplished now, and that’s one of the reasons why we are going national. And why we are in some ways going international because we have a foundation in Chile who has adopted our model. And there’s been interest from someone in Costa Rica, so we’re very excited by the fact that we don’t want to hide this light under the bushel barrel, as they say, we really want it to shine. We want to share best practices. But it’s not a short-term, isolated, fragmented part of the curriculum. It has to be both comprehensive and sustainable. So many funders are putting dollars into music education, and five years down the road we’ve seen nothing that benefits it. ETM brings in certified teachers and gets them hired by the school. It is THE way that your dollars go to work. So anyone who invests in this organisation will really see the benefits of it long-term.
PS: At the end of the day it really validates, at a very high, professional, unbiased level, the work that we’re doing. To have it validated at such a high-level speaks volumes to our funders.
AH: You mention other people being interested in your model, and I’m sure people in the UK and beyond who listen to this podcast, would be interested in it. Is there a way that they can talk to you about possibly being involved or using some aspect of your model?
KD: We are really at a position now, both Penny and I are absolutely available to take those calls and to learn. You know it’s also for us a learning experience. We’re finding out what’s happening in other parts of the world where there are wonderful things happening. Sharing aspects of our model, learning from each other, providing stronger professional development to organisations that are bringing music education to schools but are struggling with how to really develop and enrich and enhance their teachers’ ability to provide great music. So yes, we are absolutely available and very grateful to you to get the word out.
PS: Absolutely. At the end of the day, our goal is to impact the greatest number of children.
KD: That’s right, it’s all about the child. That’s our motto.
AH: Brilliant. It’s so exciting to hear that you’re rolling out in that way. Can I come back to a more detailed question now? You work specifically with schools in areas of poverty and often they’re the young people who have the most challenges in engaging and learning – they might have behavioural and emotional difficulties, and all sorts of other things that are affecting their learning. Over here in the UK there’s quite a big movement around musical inclusion, as we call it. So making sure that specifically those young people can really engage in music education and they aren’t left out because they do face so many barriers, and trying to embed an approach where young peoples’ voices are at the centre, where the music leaders really understand those young people and the challenges they face, and how to educate given those young people’s situations and given their needs. I’m just interested to know from your experience, you know, do you provide specific training around that?
KD: Yeah, you know, look, we have the same issue in New York and in other parts of the country. We serve some of the poorest congressional districts in the United States – South Bronx, Hunts Point – it’s incredibly, incredibly poor. But I found that in many cities, wonderful artists who are really passionate, and cultural organisations, your orchestras, your conservatories are really, in some ways they’re horrified that children are not getting music education. So they’re starting all these initiatives. They’re bringing artists into the schools, or the orchestra is bringing kids into the orchestra, and these are one-time, isolated, fragmented experiences. And up to some point do they work, yes, but it’s not fair. It’s not equity and access. It needs to happen first and foremost at the school. Children should not have to go anywhere to experience music education. They should have it in their school first and foremost. The enrichment part of it through El Sistema and the Harmony could happen after school. It is unfair. We’re like dogs with a bone when it comes to this, we just do not feel that it’s in any way fair to children, or to have five children out of 30 in a class experience music education. How do you tell a parent that your child’s class is going to have experiences, but no one else is. And that’s what’s happening. These artists are meaningful and they have their hearts in their hands, orchestras are meaningful, they’re worried about building audiences someday. But we need to educate the child. That is first.
PS: It’s ironic, because what we’re talking about sometimes is the neediest of children and who need the most opportunity, and often because they don’t come from a privileged background, or living in a zip code in New York that can afford music education, that they’re provided with it, right. So, there’s two different ends of the bell chart. Here you have children who need the greatest opportunity and are being provided with the least amount of opportunity. So part of our mission is that we ensure that the schools that we enter are for the most part, about 98% of our schools, are what we consider Type O1 funding. A school with Type O1 funding has a certain percentage of students from families that receive free and reduced lunch. And that’s how we try to benchmark the schools we’ll partner with, right.
KD: In many of our schools it’s 100% because the poverty line is so well below.
PS: So I don’t want to sound repetitive, but it’s just something that’s really near and dear to myself and Kathy, is that somebody’s zip code or where their family is coming from, or if they’re in a homeless shelter, wouldn’t be provided with an opportunity that some other child in a different zip code. We use these buzz words like lifelong learners and well-rounded education and well-rounded children. Well I think in order to ensure that we really truly have lifelong learners, you know, well-rounded children, we need to provide them with all the tools so they can go on both of those paths.
AH: Absolutely. Do you feel that your training of tutors, just going back to my original question, do you feel that your training of tutors is very specific or different because you work with those types of schools and those types of young people who are probably facing all sorts of challenges in their lives and maybe chaotic backgrounds etc.?
PS: When we screen candidates we make sure that they’re, we do our best I should say, to ensure that they’re comfortable in the neighbourhoods that we’re serving, right. We hire teachers, quite a few of our teachers do not come from the New York or the Tri-State area. So this may be their first time in an environment similar to a very urban education environment like New York City. I would say at the end of the day, a good educator is a good educator, and if they have good classroom management experience they’ll be able to be successful. So although we don’t have specific training for the urban environment, we certainly screen candidates to ensure that there’s a comfort level working in the environment.
AH: Ah, that’s interesting. Thank you. Anything else you wanted to say before I go on to the next question about your training of music educators and how you choose music educators?
PS: Not specifically that, but there is just one thing that I wanted to share about the success of our programme, that I’ve thought about afterwards. You know, although we’re there to support obviously the music educators, I think the one thing that stands us apart is that we also go and work with the non-music teachers. We provide staff development and professional development to the other classroom teachers as well. So they have a full understanding of what the music programme is there for. That again, we’re not just there for the auditorium or for a concert, but we’re there to help support them in their classrooms as well and will share with them how they can integrate music and music lessons into their classrooms. Which is unique to our model.
AH: And that’s really important isn’t it, because over here in the UK I think one of the things we find is that there are a lot of non-specialist teachers who are saying that they’d like to be able to do music within their classroom, and actually it’s an expectation of them, but they just don’t have the confidence.
PS: Right, so, the maths teacher could be talking about fractions and we can bring music into the conversation for fractions. So making sure it’s truly integrated into the curriculum.
KD: And it really builds a nice collaborative relationship between the music educator and the classroom teacher so they can really discuss how they can connect learning. If they’re talking about plot character and sequence they can certainly talk about The Magic Flute in music class or bring in a plot character and sequence and then the children are reinforcing some of that learning that’s happening in the language arts classroom, or in the english classroom. So there are many opportunities to collaborate. But that comes also with that professional development that Penny discussed. Where we work with the classroom teachers, share with them what’s happening in the music classroom so they feel a tie-in. And at the end of the day, if we do our job really well, that classroom teacher looks great. Because you have a great, motivated learner, they’re doing better in academic subjects, the child is happier, and believe me, the classroom teacher is a lot happier too.
AH: Absolutely, that sounds amazing. So talking about the classroom teacher and the relationship with the school, on your website you talk about partnering with ETM and it feels to me like it’s a very different approach, rather than an organisation just trying to sell in a service to a school. You have a pre-qualification questionnaire, which I think is quite unusual, I’ve not seen that before, and so I just wonder if you could tell me a little bit about how that relationship with schools works and what expectations do you have of schools as partners?
PS: Well the pre-qualification questionnaire is to make sure that the principal understands that this is very much a partnership. We’re not there just to provide music education so that the classroom teacher has a prep period, right. They certainly understand that while we may be the experts in music education, there’s an expectation on their part that they’re going to be inclusive of our programme as well. That they will include the music teacher in their staff activities, that they will have a spring concert and a winter concert, that they’ll ensure that our work is being engaged in the rest of the building, that they respected the work that we do, and that they respected our teacher most importantly. That they’re willing to work alongside of us. We’re not there to walk in and tell them how to run their building, but we’re there, I always say, to set them up for success and make them look good at the end of the day.
KD: So the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) really outlines the roles and responsibilities that we provide to the school but what we expect the school to provide. So it’s clearly defined, and when that’s clearly defined the relationship starts really on a good foot. But I think we do a lot of work with the principal before. I mean, even when we are deciding whether or not to partner with a school, there’s several conversations with the principal and visits to the school or the principal will come to the office. We’re really building a strong relationship, and you said it before Anita, it is very unique. I always say, the leadership of the school is key. If a leader of a school loves basket weaving, trust me, everyone in the school is going to basket weave. So we have to get that principal to really value music education. And very often, the leaders that we work with have never had music in their lives as Penny said before. When they went through their education in New York City when the arts were taken out, the first thing they’ll say to us is, ‘I did fine. Why do my kids needs music education?’. And it’s up to us to really cultivate and to help that teacher understand why that well-rounded learning experience is so key. And at the end of the day, they do. Maybe because of the MoA and everything is outlined, maybe because they see our Impact Report, maybe because they’ve seen other schools that have it. The relationship has to start out on a good foot, and it really does. I mean, these principals are close friends with Penny now.
PS: Right. I think the key point is though, that they value the work that we do and the relationship, right, that’s the intent behind it.
AH: That’s really interesting that you’ve said it takes a long time to build that with each school because I think sometimes an organisation might sort of see themselves as marketing to a school, and the school buying that in, and it’s a kind of quick process, between that initial engagement and then actually delivering in the school and that doesn’t really make for a really good, long-term relationship where there’s a real understanding of the values and what you’re trying to achieve. So, how important is communication and advocacy, and actually, what’s your secret? How do you do it? You said that some of these headteachers, or principals as you call them, were saying, ‘Why is this important?’. How do you take somebody on that journey from ‘I didn’t have it, why is it important?’ to being an absolute champion for what you do?
PS: I think the first thing to say is that most of the principals who are interested in partnering with us reach out to us first. So there’s an inherent intent on their part to gather more information about what we do. It’s not like we’re cold-calling anybody. We do go out and host principal breakfasts, we do encourage our current partnership principals to spread the work out. So there’s a little bit less of a lift because they’re interested in partnering with us to begin with. It’s not really that hard of a sell, but it’s the transparent communication from the very first meeting, you know, whether we get a good feeling or not, whether this principal wants us there, or doesn’t want us there. I think what’s important to note it that it’s important for there to be a good working relationship with the principal because otherwise our teacher feels like they’re stuck in the middle. It’s kind of like a child being fought over with two divorced parents. Because the principal could be telling them one thing, and we could be telling the teacher something else. If there’s not that strong partnership, the teacher’s going to suffer and we do everything to make sure that we’re supporting the teacher and that the teacher isn’t suffering. So there are conversations, and we’ll share with those principals who may not have had a full understanding of the value of music education. But typically when they made that first call, or submitted their first online interest application, there’s been a teaser already, and they’re looking to hear more about us already.
AH: And so that teaser is probably from hearing from other principals? Is that the first step do you think?
PS: Quite often it is, or there are district superintendents that have, or their principals, at a meeting. We have a close relationship with our district superintendents and they’ll often invite us to speak for five to seven minutes, you know kind of get the word out, and then we can spend some time individually with the principals afterwards.
KD: I think when you get the principal who is questioning this, it’s because they know that they need to provide some music experience in their school. They want to check off that box that they’ve done that, even though it’s not to every single child. And when they hear our model, that it serves every single child, that’s when they start to question, ‘Well why do we have to do that?’ So we absolutely then go through the process of why comprehensive and sequential music education versus just an outreach or a short-term, isolated experience, or an assembly programme. And that’s when they’ll say, ‘Well I don’t understand. I didn’t have that, Why?’, and then we shift it around. Penny’s right, most of the principals who come to us hear about us from other principals, or have read the website, or sometimes the call is just to gather information and by the end of the conversation they are really looking to be a partner.
PS: We’ve got them hooked.
AH: So finally, could you give us three practical pieces of advice or perhaps three calls to action for others working in music education who are listening? Maybe things that you’d like to see happening in music education in the next three years?
PS: Yeah, I mean, none of this is very fancy or anything like that when it comes to the practical pieces of advice but, again for those in the educational field and those that have the power to make the change and I’m sorry if I sound like I’m on my soap box. We use these buzz words, lifelong learners right, we use another buzz word, well-rounded, educated students. We need to put our money where our mouth is and do something about it. The privileged children shouldn’t be the only ones who are well-rounded children or lifelong learners. So that’s kind of my advice – if there’s a need, let’s try and support that. We need to really put our money where our mouth is. The people that can do that to ensure that we provide equity and access, there are some supporters out there that can do that, large and some small, but it has to be a little bit more in the political realm as well. It’s not a conversation, at least in New York, that happens enough. A lot of conversations are about maths scores, reading scores, science, social studies. I’d like to see our politicians talk more about the arts and music in general. You know, the support is needed. It’s not a nice to have, it’s a must have.
KD: And I would love the school leadership, when they are bringing music opportunities into the schools, that they really think of equity and access, and it’s not a fragmented part of their school curriculum. They wouldn’t only teach maths to 100 kids out of 500. It really should be for every child within that school. So when they’re partnering with an organisation that’s coming in to the school and saying, ‘I can bring you these great opportunities for a child to learn an instrument, but I can only serve 10 kids’, I would open the door and say, ‘We’re not ready for you yet’. I really believe that the principal has to make a stand or it will just continue the way it’s going.
AH: And any other advice that you could give to people who are trying to advocate music education from your own experience? Because obviously you’ve been really successful and you’re achieving significant growth.
KD: Talk to us! And I don’t mean that lightly. People come in from very different perspectives and if we could hear their story, perhaps we could share some of our experiences. We certainly don’t have all the answers Anita, we’ll never pretend to do, but that shared experience, sharing some of your challenges, maybe we’ve had the same ones.
PS: We’re certainly open and very welcoming. So if anyone happens to be in the New York area at any time, we’d certainly be happy to take anybody on a site visit, or meet them at our office.
AH: Brilliant, I’m coming, you don’t have to ask me twice. But seriously, I think it would be really good to arrange some kind of collaborational meeting or some conversations between yourselves and some of the people in the UK, we’ll try and do that. Thank you so much, that’s the end of the show, it’s been really, really fascinating to hear how you meet some of those challenges in music education, and I’ve so enjoyed talking to you. Thank you both very much indeed.
KS: Oh you’re very welcome, thanks for reaching out Anita.
PS: Thank you, we really appreciate it.