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Kids Enhance Brain Capacity through One-of-a-Kind Music Program

Acclaimed Public-Private Educational Partnership Brings Music Infused Curriculum to Elementary School in the Saugus Union School District (SUSD).


Through CalArts’ Community Arts Partnership’s (CAP) program, students receive intensive instruction in Western classical and world music, and music theory.

As declining budgets cause most public schools to cut arts instruction, the West Creek Academy in the Saugus Union School District (SUSD) offers intensive musical training beginning in the earliest grades—and creates cognitive benefits that boost students’ abilities in reading and math. From their first month at this elementary school in suburban Saugus, California, kindergarteners acquire music theory through singing, practice West African drumming and dancing, and learn to play child-scale violins.

According to the study released this month by York University in Toronto, Canada, verbal intelligence of 4 to 6-year-olds rises after only one month of musical training. Even before this study’s dramatic findings showed how musical training helps children analyze information and solve problems—young students at West Creek Academy were acquiring skills in a one-of-a-kind music infused curriculum.

Continuing after its successful pilot year, this innovative program was created, and is developed and staffed by California Institute of the Arts’ (CalArts) acclaimed Community Arts Partnership (CAP) and partially supported by a grant to CAP from the Herb Alpert Foundation. Susan Allen is the CalArts Faculty Administrator of the CAP Music Programs. She designed the curriculum in collaboration with CAP’s music coordinator Drew Jorgensen. Ms. Allen is also Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Coordinator of the Musical Arts Program and Performance Program in Harp at CalArts.

“Without expecting them to become professional musicians, learning music at an early age lays the groundwork to develop capacity to use parts of the brain that lasts a lifetime,” said Ms. Allen.  “And through their exposure to both African and Western musical forms, West Creek students are enhancing their abilities to become citizens of the world.”

CAP, a pioneering public-private arts education partnership, links CalArts and the diverse communities of Los Angeles County through free, after-school and school-based arts programs for children and youth. Offering graduate and undergraduate degrees in the performing and visual arts, CalArts is located near West Creek Academy in the adjoining city of Valencia. CAP brings CalArts’ world class faculty, alumni and students to teach West Creek’s music classes and advises West Creek teachers on how to integrate music into the teaching of other disciplines.

Four days a week, for 20 weeks, over 300 students are instructed in Western classical music and Ghanaian music, and music theory along with the standard SUSD curriculum.  Currently, CAP music classes are taught in kindergarten through third grade with the intention of expanding the program as students matriculate. 

Classes are led by Susan Allen; Beatrice Lawluvi, Faculty, Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts; Andrew Grueschow, Faculty, Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts; CalArts alumna, Yeko Ladzekpo-Cole; and CalArts student instructors.

Established in 1990, CAP offers youth classes and workshops spanning all genres of the arts, free of charge, at over 60 public schools and community organizations. As the largest college-based arts education program in Los Angeles County, CAP’s mission is to provide students in kindergarten through high school, many from traditionally underserved areas, with access to arts education. CAP ensures equity in education by helping young people gain access to arts learning opportunities in the neighborhoods in which they live.

Last edited by dthatt on Apr 04, 2012
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