The halls of Newark Public Schools will be filled with the sound of music this year.
In a district-wide effort to rebuild and sustain music education, NPS school officials, teachers, arts advocates and community members gathered this week to show their commitment to arts education with the receipt of brand new musical instruments and the implementation of professional music development programs.
The VH1 Save The Music Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring music education programs, visited the district in the midst of National Arts in Education Week with more than 200 instruments to distribute to NPS students.
Nearly 30 violins, violas and cellos were unveiled at a press conference at Camden Street School on Tuesday, one of seven schools that will be receiving the instruments.
VH1 Save The Music also brought along some added star-power to help distribute the instruments, with Algee Smith joining in the surprise celebration for students. .
The event in Newark kicks off a five-year project to invest in music programs in approximately 38 schools with demonstrated need. Each will each receive a package estimated at $60,000, including approximately $45,000 worth of new musical instruments and other equipment, along with $15,000 for professional development, advocacy support, research, measurement and program evaluation.
Through the project, the Newark Arts Education Roundtable and Newark Arts Council will provide administration, direction and technical assistance by partnering with Newark’s many stakeholders, artists, arts administrators, community organizations, community development corporations, planning groups, economic development agencies and government agencies, as well as the general public.
Arts and culture have become an integral part of Newark, with the city recently completing the Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 (AEP5) study, which explores and identifies the economic impact of arts and culture in a community. By all economic indicators, Newark continues to show growth and promise in engaging residents and visitors to diverse arts and cultural experiences.
With the launch of the new music initiative, NPS is poised and ready to align itself with this trend.
Superintendent of Newark Public Schools Christopher Cerf noted that the sound of music will be heard at the seven schools, thanks to VH1 Save The Music and the generous donations from funders and support from NPS partners.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity for our students,” Cerf said. “Research has found that learning music facilitates learning subjects and enhances skills that children use in other areas; a child uses multiple skill sets while learning music which is why this partnership with VH1 Save The Music is important to our mission to link everything students do to learning.”
Chiho Feindler, Senior Director of Programs and Policy for VH1 Save The Music, noted the renaissance that NPS has experienced in recent years and lauded the district for its efforts in supporting the initiative.
“We have seen commitment from the school district on every level,” she said. “We have seen so much support from the community. We have been so lucky to be partnering with the Newark Arts Education Roundtable and being part of the village with one common goal—the success of the students. Newark Public Schools is committed to creating a whole child that includes arts and music education."
Lauren Meehan, Director of the Newark Arts Education Roundtable (NEAR), said the organization has worked hard to make arts a priority in the district, also praising the district for its commitment to arts education.
“Newark Public Schools’ strategic plan has made arts part of the plan,” Meehan said, noting that there has been an increase in music teachers in the district.
Executive Director of Newark Arts Jeremy Johnson lauded the initiative.
"This is a game-changer for Newark and arts education," Johnson said.
Camden Street School third-grader Deion Searles was excited about the new instruments.
“I’ve been wanting a new instrument for a long time,” he said. “I’m really happy. Thank you.”
Local performing arts organizations such as the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra are joining the effort by providing free tickets to students and families to attend their events this season, as well as coaching opportunities by professional musicians.
In addition to VH1 Save The Music, further funding support for the program is provided by The ELMA US Music Foundation, The Singer Family Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Partners include the Newark Arts Council, Newark Arts Education Roundtable, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
VH1 Save The Music was founded in 1997 and was the first organization dedicated to restoring music programs. Over the last 20 years, the foundation has donated $53 million worth of new musical instruments to over 2,000 public schools in 251 school districts around the country.