How music immersion closes achievement gaps

2019 Districts of Distinction grand prize honoree San Gabriel USD teaches students music every day
By: | Issue: January, 2020
December 20, 2019
Students at Roosevelt Elementary School in San Gabriel USD are exposed to music every day, and are required to play the violin starting in first grade. They later move on to other instruments, such as the piano, guitar or ukulele.Students at Roosevelt Elementary School in San Gabriel USD are exposed to music every day, and are required to play the violin starting in first grade. They later move on to other instruments, such as the piano, guitar or ukulele.

Educator Samantha Theisen has been interviewing students and teachers for a video about the Music Immersion Experience, the award-winning student success program she leads at Roosevelt Elementary School in Southern California.

Students rattled off all the different instruments they’ve learned to play while teachers mentioned the positive impact the Music Immersion Experience is having at the school, which is part of San Gabriel USD.

“Everyone talked about the climate and culture at the school and how things have shifted and continue to shift,” says Theisen, the district’s visual and performing arts program administrator. “They’ve noticed how kids take more pride in what they’re doing with music and that it translates to the rest of their academic life.”

Music Immersion Experience adds to core subjects

Every student at the school is enrolled in the Music Immersion Experience, which was recognized as the grand prize winner in District Administration’s 2019 Districts of Distinction program.


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All students learn to play the violin beginning in first grade and can switch to a brass, woodwind or other string instrument in fourth grade. Students perform at school and in the community several times throughout the school year.

District music specialists instruct students each day in instrumental, choral and general music, using classical and contemporary pieces. Students also choose an elective such as improvisation and composition, guitar, ukulele, rock band, mariachi band, hand bell choir, dance and Latin percussion.

Music Immersion Experience instructors collaborate with classroom teachers to integrate academics into music. For instance, students working on an introduction to geology lesson this fall wrote their own lyrics to Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

Teachers say that students have improved their problem-solving skills and are also looking out for one another more because learning an instrument has made them feel connected to a bigger community.

‘Energy, positivity and a love for school’

San Gabriel USD educators had to lengthen the school day when they started Music Immersion Experience five years ago.

In addition to the daily required study of music, students can choose from electives such as rock band, hand bell choir, Latin percussion and mariachi band.

In addition to the daily required study of music, students can choose from electives such as rock band, hand bell choir, Latin percussion and mariachi band.

Their goal was to find an innovative alternative to traditional interventions in trying to close the persistent achievement gaps between students at Roosevelt and the district’s other elementary schools.

Students’ test scores continue to improve, both overall and among each demographic subgroup, Theisen says.

As of last summer, the percentage of Roosevelt Elementary third-, fourth- and fifth-graders who have met or exceeded the standards on the Smarter Balanced Assessment’s English Language Arts exam had increased 27 points since the program began. Math scores have increased by 15 points. Discipline incidents that require administrative action dropped by 75%.

Music Immersion Experience has also taken on personal meaning for Theisen, who recently moved her family to San Gabriel so her children could participate in the Music Immersion Experience at Roosevelt Elementary.

“Having music every day with all the different instructors has made a huge impact on my kids,” she says. “Their energy, their positivity and their love for school has grown
exponentially.”


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