SOMSD recognized for music education

NAMM Foundation names South Orange-Maplewood schools as ‘Best Community’ in music options

Photo Courtesy of James Manno
From left are Columbia High School musicians Liana Greenberg, Adam Friedman-Brown, Louise Kern-Kensler, Peter Henderson and Gillian Basedow.

SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Last week, 527 school districts across the nation — including the South Orange-Maplewood School District — were recognized by The National Association of Music Merchants Foundation for their outstanding music education programs. In cooperation with researchers at The Music Research Institute at the University of Kansas, and based on survey results, The NAMM Foundation each year selects school districts to be recognized as being among the Best Communities for Music Education.

Now in its 18th year, the awards program recognizes outstanding efforts by teachers, administrators, parents, students and community leaders who have made music education part of the curriculum, according to the foundation. Designations are made to districts that demonstrate an exceptionally high commitment and access to music education. According to the foundation, these districts set the bar in offering students access to comprehensive music education.

This is the third year in a row that the SOMSD has received the accolade. According to SOMSD fine arts supervisor James Manno, the district continues to be recognized due to its broad program, which provides musical opportunities for students in a variety of genres and skill sets.

Among its many offerings, the district provides vocal music for students in kindergarten through fifth-grade; fifth-grade band and strings; vocal programs and string and band programs for middle school and high school students; and marching band. Additionally, the district offers an Advanced Placement music theory course and a music technology course.

“I’m absolutely proud of all staff and students K-12 as the SOMSD is equipped with a highly skilled music staff that has all students achieving maximum potential appropriate to their levels,” Manno told the News-Record last week via email.

According to the foundation, the designation takes on added significance this year with new research showing strong ties between 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,” Mary Luehrsen, executive director of The NAMM Foundation, said in a statement. “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.

“We have been awarding the Best Communities for Music Education for 18 years,” Luehrsen continued, “and it is heartening to see how many parents and community members check to see if their schools have been recognized. Parents are choosing to live where schools are committed to music education offerings that are part of the curriculum.”

In addition to the SOMSD, the following New Jersey school districts were among the 527 named as Best Communities in Music Education: Bergenfield Public School District, Closter Public Schools, Collingswood Public Schools, Delsea Regional High School District in Franklinville, East Brunswick Public Schools, Elizabeth Public Schools, Hackensack Public Schools, Jefferson Township Public Schools in Lake Hopatcong, Kinnelon Public Schools, Lawrence Township Public Schools in Lawrenceville, Linden Public Schools, Livingston School District, Madison Public Schools, Metuchen Public School District, Midland Park Public Schools, Millville Public Schools, Montville Township Public Schools, Mount Olive School District in Flanders, Neptune Township School District, New Providence School District, North Brunswick Township School District, Northern Valley Regional High School District in Demarest, Nutley Public Schools, Paramus Public Schools, Paterson Public Schools, Pitman Public Schools, Pompton Lakes Public Schools, Randolph Township Schools, South Brunswick School District in Monmouth Junction, Stafford Township School District in Manahawkin, Vernon Township School District, Washington Township Public Schools in Sewell, West Essex Regional School District in North Caldwell, WestMilford Township School District, West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District and Westwood Regional School District in Washington Township.

Manno attributes the SOMSD’s inclusion on this prestigiou list to the teamwork of each member of the South Orange-Maplewood community and the dedication to ensuring that music education touches every child’s life.

“We have staff, administrators — at schools and central office, parents and community members that work collaboratively to consistently support our students’ musical growth, the district music programs and aligned enrichment experiences,” Manno said.

The Best Communities for Music Education program evaluates schools and districts based on funding, staffing of highly qualified teachers, commitment to standards and access to music instruction.