The Burlingame School District (“BSD”) music program offers music education from transitional kindergarten through 8th grade. Every child receives weekly general music or choral instruction through fifth grade while 4th and 5th graders can elect to participate in instrumental music instruction. Burlingame Intermediate School (“BIS”) offers a variety of elective choral and instrumental music classes at beginning, intermediate and advanced levels as well as a musical theater program. BCE is essential to the survival and growth of these programs.
Read on to discover why your kids need music more than you think.
–Written by Jay Larlarb and Elisa Lee
How Burlingame Does Music
When your child mentions music or choir or band in school, do you ever wonder exactly why or how much music education they are getting? The BSD music program is carefully made up of 5.3 full-time credentialed music teachers who teach over 1200 students from TK-5th grade in weekly music instruction. These teachers also teach over 400 students at BIS that are now enrolled in music elective classes; approximately double the amount from five years ago. The music teachers of the BSD music curriculum are experienced and passionate music advocates who describe music as a “universal language that has been shown to help students academically and socially regardless of the field or profession they may choose beyond high school.”
Your child benefits from a core music curriculum that has been comprehensively designed from a transitional kindergarten foundation to culminate, for those who choose, into advanced choral or instrumental instruction at BIS. All BSD students from transitional kindergarten through fifth grade receive 25-30 minutes of music or choir every week. In addition, 4th grade and 5th grade students can also elect to participate in band and instrumental lessons. Band meets once a week before school begins for 50-55 minutes and instrumental lessons are once a week for 25-30 minutes. All BSD elementary school students perform in at least 1 musical showcase each year.
Once at BIS, the music program is no longer mandatory but elective and includes diverse offerings like several levels of concert band, jazz band and choir. BIS students are given musical instruction for 5+ hours per week, with a minimum of 2 performance concerts each year. Additionally, musical electives classes offer highly beneficial travel opportunities to compete and learn outside of Burlingame. There is also a robust musical theater program that performs one show a school year.
Can Music Make You Smarter?
The BSD has committed to this high level of music education because studies have shown that the benefits of learning music for children can go far beyond having a musical skill. In kindergarten through fifth grade, all BSD kids are introduced to the auditory, visual and kinesthetic aspects of music. Studies have shown that singing and music education at an early age has benefits that extend far beyond the music itself. A new study conducted in 2016 by the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute highlights the importance of music in the early grades because it increases skills needed for school readiness. By developing an internal steady beat or pulse through music instruction, children increase their language development and overall literacy.
For young children, music can also have a profound effect on reading. A study by Sheila Douglas and Peter Willats in the Journal of Research in Reading suggests that there may be a relationship between musical ability and reading ability and more specifically that learning music through singing leads to better reading skills. And believe it or not, music may even increase your IQ. A study by Toronto researcher Dr. Glenn Schellenberg showed that children who received music lessons had increases of IQ almost 3 points higher than children in a control group with no music lessons.
Since BSD has one of the area’s highest music education participation rates with over 75% of 4th and 5th grade students taking advantage of elective instrumental music instruction and band, our elementary students are getting smarter by the minute!
Music Is Not Just For Little Kids
In a crowded auditorium on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, the din of quiet conversation turns suddenly into a collective hush. Mr. Simon, the BIS Jazz Band leader, snaps his fingers in time, while every member of the BIS Jazz Band watches intently. He whispers “One, two, one – two – three – four.” Finally, the last beat of the count-in. The band starts. The sound is amazing and the quality is professional. The parents in the room swell with pride. The kids, deep in concentration, are in the moment, experiencing the music, together as one.
This moment occurred for BIS Advanced Jazz students at the Reno Jazz Festival in April 2017. All of the BIS participants in this competition had music and choral instruction through 5th grade and most took the elective band and instrumental options in 4th and 5th grades. At BIS they were then selected for the highly sought after Advanced Jazz elective. We can see how the cumulative effect of learning music from kindergarten through 5th grade comes to fruition for BIS students who choose to do jazz band, concert band, choir or the school musicals but the benefits continue for beyond just music. Strangely, they may even help with math! A 1999 UCLA study by James Catterall followed more than 25,000 American secondary school students and concluded that students with consistent high levels of involvement in instrumental music over the middle and high school years showed significantly higher levels of math proficiency. The same study showed an array of higher competencies from students involved with music that carries into scholastic achievement in non –music high school classes.
But the benefits for all kids, even those who don’t continue with music after elementary school, continue whether it is cognitively, socially or creatively. Music in the district lifts all kids. Through gradual and steady music learning, week by week and year by year, Burlingame students are building on cumulative learning that crescendos to peak academic success.
So How Else Does Music Help My Kids?
The Burlingame music team has long believed that what they teach helps prepare students for the real world far beyond learning how to sing or play a song. By participating in chorus or band, students learn the value of community and teach important skills like critical thinking and team building. From a social aspect, participation in these programs teaches problem solving, empathy and how to accept learning differences. And studies backup these beliefs.
A 2013 German study by Adrian Hille and Jurgen Schupp found that adolescents who learned a musical instrument between the ages 8 and 17 score more than one fourth of a standard deviation above other children in a cognitive skills test. These positive effects on cognitive skills make sense when you realize how music and speech are related. Although they are distinct in purpose, they share many common elements in terms of auditory and cognitive processing. At the auditory level, music and speech both use pitch and timing to convey information and at the cognitive level, the brain uses the same memory and attention skills for both music and speech.
How is Burlingame Music Ahead of the Curve?
Did you know that not every Bay Area elementary school offers general music for TK-5 grades or a choir program at every elementary site? And not every middle school has jazz band electives or a robust musical theater program. Unlike Burlingame, neighboring school districts to Burlingame do not have instrumental programs until 5th or 6th grade.
During the economic downturn, the BSD struggled to keep the “nuts and bolts” of its music program in place while neighboring districts, including Millbrae, San Bruno and South San Francisco were unable to do so. Because of their efforts to keep the program alive during every economic downturn, BSD has one of the longest, continually running music programs in the state of California.
How does the BSD continue to do this? The BSD music program is 95% funded by BCE, meaning that the generosity and hard work of the parents who support BCE are what keep our music program thriving. Remember that music education builds from kindergarten on so budget cuts that take place years before will show the consequences by middle school. Because BCE was able to help the BSD keep the basics of their program in place through the lean times, now entire classes of children are moving through upper elementary and middle school with solid music exposure.
Parents, Let’s Make Some Music
Demand for music and drama offerings for BSD students is growing. Enrollment is increasing for the elective music offerings in 4th and 5th grades and at BIS. Parents of both elementary and BIS students are hoping for offerings in schools like the return of an orchestral strings ensemble, strings instruction, and more band and choral elective offerings at BIS.
But maintaining even the “nuts and bolts” of a music program requires a constant budget to address staffing, classroom space, maintenance and replacement of equipment, and curriculum material. And maintaining the program of an ever increasing student body means the budget never stays still. Of course, this all requires a prioritization of money and commitment.
“Music is a priority for our district because the community provides unwavering support for it. This support is evidenced by the overwhelming enrollment numbers in both band and choir at the elementary and middle school levels, as well as the enthusiasm from parents and the community. Part of the reason BCE has so many gracious donors is due to the community’s support for the arts,” says the Burlingame music team.
The BSD music program gets 95% of its funding from BCE. With private music lessons at a cost of $30-50 a week, many students in our community would never have the opportunity to try and play an instrument, be in a band or sing in a choir without the exposure from school. “I guess we wonder what wonderfully talented BSD student singer or instrumentalist would never be given the opportunity to reach their potential in the performing arts if music ceased in BSD. If one interviews most of the great performing artists of the past several decades they quickly realize that most got their start in their school’s [arts and music] programs and classes,” says the Burlingame music team.
Burlingame parents rise to the expectations we set for our students and we have consistently shown that music is a value we understand. Please continue to support BCE and spread the benefits of music to all the children of our community.