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Saturday, December 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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VH1 Save the Music Foundation equips five Madison elementary schools with new piano labs
Music in Education program will emphasize hands-on learning
The partnership helps the school district satisfy some long-term needs.
The partnership helps the school district satisfy some long-term needs.

Music in Madison schools is getting a big boost today from the VH1 Save the Music Foundation and the Madison Community Foundation. Besides bolstering the arts, a new program called Music in Education is expected to improve participating students' math and reading skills.

Five Madison elementary schools will receive piano labs, as well as curricula, management software and professional development for teachers.

"The goal is to put [the labs] in all our schools over an eight to 10 year period," says Laurie Fellenz, the district's fine arts coordinator. "The addition of keyboards to our general music curriculum is a wonderful opportunity for all our students in the Madison Metropolitan School District."

"Really, for us, Madison is the perfect partner," says Chiho Okuizumi of the VH1 Save the Music Foundation. "Our commitment is that we will be here until every single elementary school in Madison has the instruments it needs, no matter how long it takes."

Okuizumi will announce the new partnership, which includes the district, the Madison Community Foundation and the VH1 foundation, at 4 p.m. today at Emerson Elementary School, 2421 E. Johnson Street. Other donor partners include the Wisconsin Center for Music Education and the Yamaha Corporation, a manufacturer of musical instruments.

"Thanks to the VH1 Save the Music Foundation and Madison Community Foundation, we will be able to put high-quality keyboard labs in every elementary school and strengthen the music education our students receive," says district superintendent Jane Belmore. "I want to thank all of our partners for coming together to make this generous gift possible."

The Music in Education program will emphasize hands-on learning and the application of musical concepts. The budget for the first two years of the initiative, which begins this school year, is nearly $175,000. The district is providing nearly $16,000 for the effort. The VH1 foundation is giving $30,000, and will donate another $60,000 in the second year of implementation. Other partners, primarily the Madison Community Foundation, will make up the balance during that time.

While planning had long been underway, the process was accelerated by the VH1 foundation "around two years ago, with all the political turmoil that Madison and the country were going through," says Okuizumi "In this economic climate, it is so hard to put capital investments in public schools. It's our way to help."

"This is wonderful news for Madison's students and for the entire community," says Anne Katz, executive director of Arts Wisconsin, a nonprofit state advocacy organization. "All kids deserve the chance to learn through the arts and to be involved in arts experiences as an integral component of their education."

"The Music in Education Program is exactly the kind of enterprise we like to support," says Kathleen Woit, president of the Madison Community Foundation. "This program will improve students' music literacy, attention skills and memory skills, which translates directly into increased academic achievement."

The slogan of the VH1 Save the Music Foundation is "Music Education = Brain Power." There's at least some data that supports the notion.

According to a 2010 study conducted by The Conference Board, a management and marketplace research organization, and by Americans for the Arts, an advocacy nonprofit, students with an education rich in the arts have higher grade point averages and standardized test scores, lower drop-out rates and better attitudes about community service, regardless of socioeconomic status. According to their research, students with four years of arts in high school average 100 points better on their SAT scores than students with a half-year or less.

The Madison school district's research and evaluation department will conduct its own study to see if such results are realized at the elementary level. The Madison Community Foundation already predicts 50% improvement in participating students' reading and math skills within three years, thanks to the new Music in Education program.

"Music is an integral part of the school curriculum," says Kevin Thays, director for the Wisconsin School Music Association. "Students who study music develop important skills, which they can use in all walks of life. It has also been repeatedly shown that those who are able to study music do better in other academic areas."

The partnership helps the school district satisfy some long-term needs; its 2009 Fine Arts Task Force action plan identified goals including purchase and replacement of equipment, as well as finding "alternative arts funding opportunities." Emerson, Hawthorne, Lake View, Leopold and Lindbergh elementary schools will all take part during the first two years of the program.

Based in New York City, the VH1 Save the Music Foundation has raised $49.5 million since its founding in 1997, to bolster music education in more than 1,800 U.S. schools. It's since split off from the VH1 cable channel and is a freestanding nonprofit. Its current celebrity spokespeople include recording artists Mariah Carey, LeAnn Rimes and Matchbox Twenty. One of its corporate partners is the Yamaha Music in Education program.

"They have a very strong relationship with Yamaha," says Tom Linfield of the Madison Community Foundation. "I believe that helps them provide keyboards at far lower cost."

Arts Wisconsin's Katz says the new partnership will help local kids grow into well-rounded adults.

"This is what our kids need to grow as unique and interesting people, and succeed in the 21st-century world and workforce," says Katz. "Kudos to all involved for giving every student in the Madison district this expressive, creative opportunity."

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