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Students get help finding rhythm


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When students at Northwood Elementary go to their third- and fourth-grade music classes, most of them play recorders, but a handful of them grab bongos, bells, tambourines and xylophones.

Playing the recorders, which are plastic flutes, involves students moving air through the instrument while simultaneously reading music and quickly moving their fingers along the notes. Not all of Northwood Elementary’s students have the motor skills needed to play a wind instrument. Until recently, those students weren’t able to make music alongside the rest of their classmates.

Special education teacher Dawn Phelps and music teacher Judy Lamb wanted to be sure that all of the elementary school’s students had instruments to play during music class, and were awarded a nearly $500 grant from the Franklin Community Schools Education Foundation.

That money paid for the percussion instruments that students who can’t play the recorders have been using since January to learn about rhythm and how to keep time.

“If everybody has something to do, they’re all engaged. They’re learning,” Lamb said.

Phelps can already see a difference in her special education students, who have been using the new percussion instruments for about two months. Phelps’ students are learning to patiently wait to play instruments they want to use in music class, and how it’s important to work well with other students playing different instruments while creating a song. One of her students is also already talking about joining the band program at Custer Baker Intermediate, she said.

Phelps hopes that as students have more opportunities to play music with the instruments and learn how to read music they’ll develop skills they can use in core subjects such as math.

A new beat

Here are the instruments two Northwood Elementary teachers purchased with a Franklin Community Schools Education Foundation grant:

Four rhythm bongos: $60

Thee eight-bell handsets: $120

Three eight-note xylophones: $75

Three tambourines: $30

12-pack wrist bells: $32

Handbell cards: $24

Three Casio keyboards: $150

Total: $491

“Our goal is to fully include them to the most of their ability in every activity,” Phelps said.

For the first time, all of Franklin’s kindergarten through fourth-grade special education students are at Northwood Elementary. That’s a total of about 20 students, and half of those children are in third and fourth grades, Phelps said.

The students in Phelps’ class have varying physical and cognitive skills — some have physical disabilities while others can’t talk, and all of them have individual education plans to help them learn core subjects such as math and language arts. The students are typically all together for those lessons, but they have music lessons with their classmates from traditional classes, Phelps said.

Northwood Elementary students start using recorders in music class in third grade, but not all of the third- and fourth-grade special education students can use the instruments. Phelps and Lamb applied for the grant to make sure the special education students could participate in, and wouldn’t be excluded from, music lessons.

“To have them sitting out, that is not meeting kids’ needs,” Phelps said.

Giving the special education students more chances to play instruments alongside other students shows them why it’s important to be able to get along with others, which is a skill some of the students need additional time developing, Phelps said. Studies have also shown that as younger students learn to read music and to understand what quarter, half and whole notes are and how they work together, they’ll have a better chance at understanding math lessons as they get older, Phelps said.

The new instruments won’t be used by only special education students. Students in kindergarten, first and second grades can also get an early start learning percussion by playing the keyboards, bells and bongos, Lamb said.

“It started with a very small group, and the more we talked we realized it could benefit anyone,” Lamb said.

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