Save Music Education
Save Music Education
Dear Senator Shelley Mayer,
We are the Yonkers Public School music educators who have recently been laid off: Colette Hebert from Scholastic Academy and School 23, Harold Agosto from Robert C. Dodson School, Erin Giacinto from Thomas Cornell Academy and School 5, Dr. Brian Doherty from Cross Hill Academy, and Avid Williams from Yonkers High School. Collectively, we teach over 4,000 students in the Yonkers Public Schools. We had all been music educators for over 10 years and believe that a strong music program can completely shape every student regardless of the demographics of a community, or a person’s socio-economic status.
In Yonkers, we have over 26,000 students and only have 23 music teachers after budget cuts this year. That means for every 1,130 students, there is one music teacher. This year, Colette Hebert taught 707 amazingly talented students from Pre K to eighth grade. ALL of her students learned an instrument, learned how to sing, participated in seasonal concerts and performances and were invited to fully funded field trips and clubs she worked on grants for. Without our dedicated music teachers, our students would not have received a well-rounded education. Elementary music helps shape the whole child. Music teaches the importance of teamwork and how to manage anxiety. It helps develop the mind and has academic benefits.
Music is essential for underserved schools for its mental and emotional benefits that aren’t offered in any other class. Music helps at risk and low-income students read at grade level. Learning an instrument improves skills such as developing an ear for rhythm and enriching the complexity and diversity of sounds, which is an important path to learning how to read. Music can be used to close the academic gap.
In Yonkers, 79% of our students, which is over 21,000 students and families come from low-income households and qualify for free and reduced lunch. The city of Yonkers has approximately 50 percent of the total homeless population of all of Westchester County. Yonkers was greatly affected by The COVID-19 Pandemic, and southwest Yonkers was the hardest hit during this time. We personally knew many people affected throughout this pandemic. Students, teachers and parents with whom we worked were affected by COVID-19. Through this uncertain time, we need to put more support in place for our students, not less support and structure. How we integrate music and the arts into our schools impacts all classrooms across the board. High quality music programs can create lasting connections and address behavior issues. Students use music as a coping mechanism for their struggles and will go on to succeed in their core academics.
Earlier this month, the New Jersey Board of Education adopted new Learning Standards for the Visual and Performing Arts. Heightened attention has now been given to the positive impacts that the Visual and Performing Arts have on Social and Emotional Learning among public school students. Dr. Maurice Elias from Rutgers University states, “The Arts Education and Social and Emotional Learning Framework shows beyond any doubt that the Visual and Performing Arts provide students with opportunities to exercise their Social and Emotional Learning skills.” Visual and Performing Arts are both social and emotional. They serve to enliven and activate Social and Emotional components, which in turn, make Arts Education a catalyst for students’ development. Because of the social and emotional nature of the arts, students are able to engage in learning experiences, which enable them to explore and develop a deeper and more meaningful way of learning.
This year, Colette Hebert from Scholastic Academy and School 23 wrote and worked on many grants for her schools. She worked alongside Yamaha Music, Imperial Guitars, Hungry for Music in DC and the National Jazz Museum to help grow and improve the music programs at both Scholastic Academy and School 23 in Yonkers. Because of her grant writing, Colette brought band instruments, string instruments, guitars, and field trips to her students. It is because of these grants and donations that she was able to provide a challenging and positive music experience for all of her students.
In our last assignment of this school year, all of the music teachers who have received lay off notices by the Yonkers Public Schools have assigned students to respond to our statement: “Imagine Your Life Without Music.” What does that mean to you? We did not tell our students about budget cuts, but we did want to hear their messages. We, as music educators who love our students, have brought resources to our classes that our district didn’t fund, but that we paid for out of pocket, wanted to know what our students thought about life without music. Here are some quotes from Colette's students:
“Music is what makes us enjoy life. Without music, there is no real me, no creativity. So I’ll never be free. Life without music is not life at all.” That was from one of Colette's Scholastic Academy eighth graders. Another eighth grader at Scholastic says, “When I hear a song, I have to move my feet. I smile more and more, with every melody. Even when I have a bad day, all I do is sing. Music is the real reason for being.” One of Colette's kindergarteners from School 23 says, “Without music my life would just be sad.”
Erin Giacinto is a 12th year music teacher and teaches amazingly talented students at School 5 and Thomas Cornell Academy. One of her eighth grade students at School 5 says, “Life without music is like a morning without chirping, nights without earphones, traffic without horns, and dancing without beats. Music is not only sound, it is a feeling, an emotion and satisfaction, which connects us to the world around us. It connects us to ourselves. Music completes us.”Another one of Erin’s students, a 7th grader from School 5, says, “Music is a way to communicate, a way to send a message through lyrics. Music is a way to express yourself, when you can’t find the right words.”
Our students deserve music. They deserve all of the benefits music has to offer. They deserve to be a part of a strong music program. They deserve emotional resilience and empathy. They deserve the calm that music brings them. They deserve to be part of a school that can educate them socially and emotionally, as well as academically.
ALL students will be affected in Yonkers without adequate funding for music education. 23 music teachers for over 26,000 students?! That isn’t what our students deserve. They deserve instruments. They deserve certified, accomplished music educators in their classes. They deserve music educators who believe in them, who will go above and beyond it just “being a job.” We, as music educators, whom have been laid off from the Yonkers Public Schools all believe that each student can be successful. We are dedicated to bringing a strong music education program to our students. We love our students and know that they deserve music in their schools.
Scholastic Academy and School 23
Robert C. Dodson School
Thomas Cornell Academy and School 5
Dr. Brian Doherty
Cross Hill Academy
Yonkers High School