Music ignites all areas of child development and skills for school readiness, including intellectual problem-solving, motor and language skills, and overall math and reading proficiency, according to the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute. The Institute selects Ocean View elementary or middle school students for arts education beyond programming already annually funded by Norfolk Public Schools across all schools.
The Institute invests in The Virginia Arts Festival to develop a program for Little Creek Elementary School students on the positive effects of jazz. The Festival subsidized The New England Conservatory Jazz Quartet’s travel from Boston to the classroom in March 2019. More than 180 first-to-third grade students experienced jazz across multiple music selections. The artists explained how jazz comes together across multiple music instruments and answered student questions.
In April 2019, at Ocean View Elementary School, the Festival also staged a presentation from the OzScot Highland Dance ensemble, who were in the area from Australia to also perform at the Festival’s annual Virginia International Tattoo in Norfolk. Nearly 200 Ocean View first-to-fifth grade students experienced close-up a style of choreographed, group dancing to a unique blend of Scottish Highland and contemporary music. Artists also explained and taught their dance and its historical, cultural roots.
“By bringing professional artists directly to the school, you can create a more intimate experience and interaction with music or dance for students. You can better see dance movements, hold music instruments, feel the rhythms,” said Christine Foust, the Festival’s Director of Education & Community Engagement. “Having artists connect with students has been part of the Festival’s mission since our first season in 1997.”
The Institute also provides additional funds for The Virginia Symphony Orchestra (VSO)’s Young Peoples Concert at Chrysler Hall for Norfolk schools, so that more than 200 third graders at Little Creek and Ocean View Elementary school could attend an annual concert, and play along with the orchestra on some music selections with a school-provided wind instrument, a recorder.
“One student who attended one of our concerts wrote that the music ‘inspired me’ to play the violin,” said Carolyn Dunn-Buying, VSO’s former Education and Community Engagement Manager, also a former music teacher. “We can’t teach in schools how to actively listen to a concert by following the sound with your eyes to various instruments or orchestra sections, or how to understand a melody or its history. VSO concerts for elementary-school students also work to inspire a life-long appreciation for the value of music.”
Learning how to listen then play music, whether at the elementary or middle school-level, also can enhance literacy, and, importantly, improve math skills. Because, at some level, all music is math – time signatures or beats per minute, for example, says the Brain Balance Achievement Centers, which help children overcome learning development issues.
At Ocean View Elementary, the students most at-risk of falling behind in math or reading face numerous issues which may impact their ability to learn. Enter East Beach Buddies: caring, dependable adults who mentor to students, encouraging them to persevere.
A group of about 30 of these Ocean View adult neighbor-mentors, largely from the East Beach neighborhood, encourage at-risk, kindergarten-to-third-grade students. These students, one-on-one or in groups with mentors, learn to better understand basic arithmetic skills through play for 90 minutes a week, October through May, or in 30 minutes a week sparked an interest in reading, improving their academic performance. All the while developing the confidence and social skills necessary to achieve.
The Institute also invests in multiple books, math supplies or materials for nearly 40 Ocean View Elementary students participating in the East Beach Buddies math and reading programs.
“If you can help children feel more confident, they may become open to new opportunities,” said Mary Ann Fussell, who has been organizing East Beach Buddies in Ocean View for more than a decade. “Teachers and administrators at Ocean View Elementary have told us that as children improve academically, their school experiences are affected in positive ways.”
The Institute also supports after-school summer reading programs, such as Sharing Out loud the Art of Reading (SOAR), where adult mentors read to more than 50 children ages 5-15 at the East Ocean View Community and Senior Center.
These programs also are especially enriching for Ocean View's adult-mentors and volunteers who come together in support of youth to expand access to the arts and educational opportunities across Ocean View neighborhoods.
East Beach Buddies at Ocean View Elementary School, 2020.