Schools across the city are falling silent as music programs are dropped from curriculums.
“Music is culture,” said Michelle Frank, who teaches vocal music at the Franklin Learning Center, on 15th Street near Mt. Vernon. “When we learn about music we are learning about the history of our people and how to pass on who we are as a race. When we take that away from students and we don’t make that a part of their everyday learning, their education is just not whole.”
Little Kids Rock, a national nonprofit, is currently helping to fill in the gaps missing from Philadelphia’s public schools.
The Franklin Learning Center, along with seven other Philadelphia public schools and two Atlantic City schools, received instruments earlier this month as part of a $30,000 donation from Little Kids Rock made possible through BeachGlow, another nonprofit organization focused on raising funds for youth-related causes through contemporary music. The instruments are part of the new music program Modern Band, which was implemented as part of the 10 schools’ curriculum.
The Kunkel family, the Philadelphia natives who founded BeachGlow, decided to hone in on the city, President Gerard Kunkel said. Kunkel said he is excited to be working in Philadelphia.
“From what we understand the [district’s] budget was cut from $1.5 million to $50,000, so they’re relying extensively on outside donation and private communities,” Kunkel said.
Organizations like Little Kids Rock and BeachGlow have become some public schools’ last chance to create fulfilling music education programs in districts where arts programs are the first to go when budgets get tight.
“I think the partnership between BeachGlow and Little Kids Rock is so beautifully connected,” Kunkel added. “We’re both intersecting at this concept of modern music being a stimulus to not only help create a charitable community but also to help stimulate youth both in music education … and in education overall.”
BeachGlow was started in 2011 by then-16-year-old Dane Kunkel, who had the idea for BeachGlow Music Festival, a day-long festival on the Atlantic City beach to raise money for a particular charity. This year, the $30,000 raised at the fest was given to Little Kids Rock to fund Modern Band.
Rather than replacing the previous music programs in the schools, Modern Band works alongside them to encourage more kids to get involved with music.
“There’s choir, jazz band and marching band,” Little Kids Rock communications officer Keith Hejna said. “But traditionally there’s no popular music band so that’s what Little Kids Rock has created over the past 14 years, and we call that Modern Band.”
The program consists of three parts: a new curriculum rooted in popular music genres of the past 60 years, training for all music teachers involved with the program and instruments needed for the curriculum, including drum sets, electric and bass guitars, keyboards and microphones. The program comes at no cost to the district, students or teachers.
Modern Band aims to expose students generally interested in traditional or classical music to the genres.
“It helps us reach more kids,” Frank said. “With [Modern Band], we can have two programs operating alongside one another, for kids that are already interested in music and for the kids who just really love music and want to find a way to start playing quickly.”
The benefits of the Modern Band program go well beyond music education, including “getting kids in touch with their creative side, building confidence, getting them to come to school,” Hejna said. Music education also helps kids graduate, with an American Music Conference report stating that children involved in music are 52 percent more likely to attend college than those who are not.
Frank has already noticed positive impacts of music education in her students.
“I see that kids are excited to come to school, they come when we have a special rehearsal or event,” she said. “It encourages attendance and attendance leads to better achievement which leads to graduation.”
BeachGlow will donate all the money raised at its upcoming 2016 festival, which has expanded to two days in hopes of raising more money.
“If you don’t have students that want to be there and are in a position where they are trying to be the best they can be, you’re just not going to get there as a school,” Frank added. “With [Modern Band], I know they look forward to [school] and they want to participate in it and in our school especially the students are feeling an incredible amount of school pride, which makes kids want to be there, and that’s a pretty big battle, especially in schools in Philadelphia.”
Emily Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.