'Music Matters' at Agnes Stewart Middle School

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - One Springfield middle school is getting a major "tune-up," a $280,000 improvement to be exact.

It's all possible through a music grant from the Oregon Community Foundation. They're calling it "Music Matters."

Through this grant, Agnes Stewart Middle School and the Shedd Institute are working together to education all students on music. They are now in the second year of the five year program. So far, it's been in perfect harmony.

"Able to buy five or six new instruments through this grant - without this grant, wouldn't have afterschool programs, wouldn't have groups coming into school performing. With 29 years of teaching, I saw nothing but budget cuts and Springfield does an excellent job of maintaining their music program, but they still had to cut budgets. So before the grant, the last new instrument I was able to get as a teacher in Springfield was about 20 years ago."

The grant also helps pay for summer camps and private lessons with experts from the Shedd, services some kids could never afford on their own.

Music teacher Dana Demant says 70 percent of Agnes Stewart students are underprivileged. Now with private lessons and unique workshops available at the school, the retention rate is higher than ever.

"There's a clear data that the standard middle school class loses 50 percent of their kids from sixth to seventh grade. Last year we didn't lose any kids going to sixth to seventh grade and lost very few going to seventh to eighth grade. So the retention rate is like 90 percent."

Students say they like the challenge.

"We've been able to play more notes that are higher and harder and songs that are hard for us to play them better."

For many, music gives them the opportunity to come out of their shells.

"I made a really good friend because of it," said Andrew Rosales who plays seventh grade trumpet. "It has definitely given me more confidence.

Students don't have to be a part of the music program to get the benefits. All students at the school have access to the workshops and free or discounted shows.

"It's okay for boys to do these cool movements and drum on things instead of just their pencil on the back of the classroom. So it's an avenue for kids to explore. It's how do you make music part of their life, and what else could you see? What else could you learn?"

Even for kids who aren't musically inclined, they can still appreciate the value of music. That's one of the goals of the grant.

"Finding out how do we make music part of these kids' lives and I think we're developing a strategy that it's not just music. You can go in and ask how does painting become a part of your life? How does anything you want to make become a part of your life, arts? You can't avoid the arts. It's there every day. You pick colors; you listen to music. You're always doodling; you're always a part of the arts."

Demant says they find ways to incorporate music into other subjects. For instance, they had Chico Schwall come in and play songs passed on what they were learning in social studies.

Just this past summer, Demant said more than 50 students took private lessons at the Shedd Instituted. He said several of them also saw Mary Poppins for free with their parents.

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