Arts infusion grant to begin next month in RPS

Never underestimate the power of music.

Neuroscientists are discovering encouraging things about how the brain works — and, specifically, how music can enhance learning and creativity. An article last month in Education Week summarized research pointing to how the practice and performance of music helps students’ cognitive development.

Fine Arts Director LuAnn Widergren works with RPS students at the Instrument Petting Zoo earlier this year.

Fine Arts Director LuAnn Widergren works with RPS students at the Instrument Petting Zoo earlier this year.

What you may not know: Rockford Public Schools is poised to prove the research in classrooms.

Over the next four years, the district will use a nearly $1.2 million arts integration grant through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement. RPS was among only eight districts across the country to receive the grant, which is called Rockford Arts Infusion. It targets sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Kennedy and Flinn middle schools who struggle with math. “It will be a whole new way to look at learning,” Donna Moeller, dean of curriculum for secondary math, said in October when the grant was announced. The program will begin next month.

Kennedy and Flinn were chosen because of the concentration of students enrolled in math intervention classes, which reinforce basic math skills. The students at those schools will be compared to students in control groups.

More than 20 artists in the community — in the fields of drama, visual and media art, dance and music — have signed on to help. It will truly be a collaboration, similar to big-time projects like Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, which was described in the EdWeek article. The five-year, University of Southern California research project provides free musical instruments and training to low-income students in LA. The project will measure not only the students’ musical development but their neurological development.

Such studies are exciting, and it’s exciting that our district is willing to leverage the power of the arts as well.

Loud applause to RPS Fine Arts Director LuAnn Widergren and  curriculum expert Moeller, who worked together countless hours to 1) win the grant and 2) design how the integration will look at the classroom level.  Stay tuned for more reports.

Mary Kaull is communications coordinator for the Rockford Public Schools. She still feels cheated out of the solo in middle school choir but not so bitter that she can’t sing occasionally in the church choir at Emmanuel Episcopal in Rockford.