A recent distinction from the National Association of Music Merchants’ NAMM Foundation truly has given the Washington Township Public Schools something to sing about. The District was cited among 527 school districts nationwide as one of the “2017 Best Communities for Music Education.” The award recognizes outstanding efforts by teachers, administrators, parents, students and community leaders who have made music education part of the curriculum, and districts that demonstrate an exceptionally high commitment and access to music education. Washington Township is one of four percent of districts across the nation receiving the prestigious award in 2017, one of 37 districts recognized in the State of New Jersey, and one of three in Gloucester County.
Now in its 18th year, The Best Communities Music Education designation is awarded to districts that demonstrate outstanding achievement in efforts to provide music access and education to all students. To qualify for the Best Communities designation, Washington Township visual and performing arts supervisor Bob Frampton answered detailed questions about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program, and community music-making programs. Responses were verified and reviewed by the Music Research Institute at the University of Kansas.
This award recognizes that Washington Township is leading the way with music learning opportunities as outlined in the new federal education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The legislation, signed into law in December 2015 and awaiting state implementation, designates music and the arts as important elements of well-rounded education for all children.
“Our school community is appreciative of this recognition of our music program,” Superintendent of Schools Joe Bollendorf said. “Our district and our community believes in and wholeheartedly supports the arts in Washington Township. This award recognizes the exceptional work that our administrators, teachers and students put into our music program. A high-quality, well-rounded education is something Washington Township prides itself in, and to be recognized for that effort is both gratifying and exciting.”
“The importance of music and arts instruction in school has never been more important than now,” Frampton said. “Research continues to indicate that music education supports creative problem solving and working towards common goals in group settings. These are critical, lifelong skills. The arts help students learn to give and receive constructive criticism, pay attention to fine detail and appreciate aesthetic qualities. I am thrilled to work with many fine teachers who embrace these ideas while working with our students every day, and I am very proud to be associated with a District and community that appreciates the value of a quality music education.”
Washington Township’s robust music education program includes the delivery of instruction from 22 full-time, certified music teachers. The District boasts some 2,000 band, chorus, handbells and orchestra students in grades four through 12, a population that comprises approximately 39 percent of students enrolled in those grades. Washington Township showcases the musical talents of its students in more than 35 in-District music performances annually, as well as through numerous festival performances both in and out of state. The District’s student-musicians routinely garner regional and state recognition for their excellence.
At the elementary level, all students in grades K-5 receive 40 minutes of general music instruction per week. Elementary students are introduced to string instruments in fourth and fifth grades, and band activities begin in fifth grade. All six elementary schools host a chorus.
Middle-school aged students have access to band, chorus and orchestra opportunities. All sixth-grade students are enrolled in a music appreciation exploratory course.
In addition to band, chorus and orchestra, Washington Township High School students can pursue music performance through three levels of guitar and jazz band. The school also offers courses in music technology, music theory and AP music theory.
The designation Best Communities for Music Education takes on added significance this year with new research showing strong ties between K-12 school students who actively participate in school music education programs and overall student success. A recent study of students in the Chicago Public Schools by brain researchers at Northwestern University, detailed in Neuroscientist and Education Week, builds on previous findings that participation in music education programs helps improves brain function, discipline and language development.
“Studying music has intrinsic benefits and, on its own, is core to learning. Also, the links between student success and music education have now been demonstrated by brain researchers in multiple studies,” said Mary Luehrsen, executive director of The NAMM Foundation. “The schools and districts our foundation recognizes are building on that connection between music and academics. These schools and districts are models for other educators who see music as a key ingredient in a well-rounded curriculum that makes music available to all children, regardless of zip code.
The NAMM Foundation is a nonprofit supported in part by the National Association of Music Merchants and its approximately 10,300 members around the world. Its mission is to advance active participation in music making across the lifespan by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving, and public service programs. For more information about the NAMM Foundation, please visit www.nammfoundation.org