Learning to JAMM

Posted: Monday, July 19, 2010

Glacier Valley Elementary School music teacher and librarian Lorrie Heagy thought big even before she left Juneau last fall to study innovative music teaching techniques in Boston, Venezuela and Scotland.

Now the goals are even bigger.

Glacier Valley, a Title 1 school, will pilot a program that provides free violin instruction to all kindergarten classes three times a week, in addition to general music education.

That program is JAMM, which stands for Juneau, Alaska Music Matters, and is an offshoot of the program "El Sistema," begun in underserved communities in Venezuela. Proponents say the program is based on cognitive research that shows playing an instrument at an early age "develops skills for success," offering children intellectual benefits of early music training, social benefits of the orchestra, and helping with self-confidence, persistence and more.

Heagy said the two months she spent in Venezuela as part of her year-long Abreu Fellowship were inspiring.

"It changed the way that I see music," she said. "I already believe in its power in so many ways ... but in Venezuela they made it very clear that this is not a music program, it's a social program ... it can really be a magnifying force for a community."

She also emphasized that JAMM will not be something imposed on kids, but something created through collaboration.

"It's a living and breathing program that changes and adapts to its community," she said.

Heagy hopes to involve parents, local artists, musicians, musical organizations, middle schools, high schools and the University of Alaska Southeast, and to eventually expand the program into more grades, more schools, more time and more instruments.

For that, they need donations of money for instrument purchases, instruments themselves, or just time from interested volunteers.

JAMM currently has 25 violins that will be shared between the three classes. Kids will practice three times a week during the school day, breaking to move and sing "so that half hour is appropriate and joyful," she said.

About $10,000 would get them to the first step of having enough violins for all the kindergartners to play together, Heagy said.

Heagy also said Will Schmid of World Music Drumming in Wisconsin and Remo Belli of Remo Drums donated a 40-piece world drumming set to JAMM.

Sally Rue, director of the Initiative for Community Engagement (ICE) of the Association of Alaska School Boards, said the project's emphasis on community involvement is part of what makes it a good one for ICE, which focuses on engaging adults, schools, communities, organizations, businesses and others to positively support kids.

Rue also stressed the program's potential for providing cognitive, social and emotional skills.

"When you ask 'What do you want your kids to have when they graduate?' no one ever says 'Oh, I just want them to pass a test,'" she said. "When kids get this support and these opportunities and values - the way to get those is through positive relationships with adults, and that's what we're sort of lacking these days in a society that is very age-segregated, and a lot of kids don't have that much support or connections to schools and communities."

The arts, she said, are a powerful way to build that connection, which has also been shown to lead to academic success.

ICE provided JAMM with $10,000 used for violin purchases.

"What is smart about El Sistema is that through partnerships you're able to create a patchwork of musical opportunities for kids throughout their school life," Heagy said. "Juneau is such a rich place culturally - in the arts there's an opportunity for us all to work together and look at programs that are already being offered that we could kind of piece together so children can always have a place where they can be a part of an artistic and creative community. Juneau is the perfect place for a program like this."

JAMM's web page is http://www.jsd.k12.ak.us/~heagyl/ArtIsElementary/JAMM.html and its blog an be found at http://juneaumusicmatters.blogspot.com/. Donations can be made on both sites.

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