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Achieving Academic Success Through Music

By ETM Partner School Teacher

(as told by the music teacher)

The following story was written as told by ETM music teacher, Brittany Kolodziej who teaches orchestra at PS 68 and MS 529 in the Bronx. PS 68, a K-5 school, has partnered with ETM since 1997, during which time it has established its general music program for all students and an orchestra program which serves grades 4-5.

From the first day Jamal* entered my cello class I knew there was something special about him. Jamal was anxious to learn and came to class and rehearsals throughout the fall and winter season with wide eyes and a huge smile.

I’ll never forget one day in November when I had Jamal’s class for the last period of the day on a Friday afternoon: he came into class almost running, unpacked, and immediately began playing the blues on his cello. “Miss Kolodziej,” he said, “I’m so glad it’s time for cello class. I’ve had this music running through my head all day and now I finally get to let it out!”

A few weeks later he began missing his lessons. His teacher informed me she was holding him because he “couldn’t even write a sentence.” She told me that his grades were so low in English Language Arts (ELA) that he could not afford to miss time in her classroom. I fought this battle and lost. Jamal, however, still came to morning orchestra rehearsals before school and even gave up some recess time to practice with me. He was determined to get his grades up so he could stay in orchestra. As time went on, Jamal showed me a few of his own music compositions. It seemed that composing music was also helping him to compose words, sentences, and paragraphs in his ELA class. During this time, he fell in love with Yo-Yo Ma’s music, and decided he was going to be a famous composer/cellist someday too.

By the start of spring, Jamal showed me some of his school work and smiled when he told me that his grades were up. In orchestra, he never skipped a beat.

I almost cried, a few weeks ago, when he brought me an essay he wrote about what music meant to him. I could see his effort come through in his writing. It was evident that he wrote and re-wrote his story many, many times before giving it to me. He wrote beautifully. I had seen where he was in the winter, and the improvement in his writing was astounding.

Jamal’s hard work in both cello class and ELA are paying off and he has been selected for an USDAN scholarship to attend a summer arts camp. His gift and passion for music has motivated him to rise above his challenges in ELA. He is one of the most gifted students in the orchestra and his musical abilities are top notch. I am so excited for what is in store for him.

*The student’s name was changed to protect his privacy.