Music and the arts have a profound impact on students and their communities. According to ongoing research, the benefits of learning music in school are deep and lifelong – socially, cognitively, and creatively – and may be linked to higher engagement, motivation, and attendance in school. Yet, less than one in five California public schools has a dedicated arts or music teacher; and in Los Angeles County, equity continues to be a challenge in arts education. Schools with higher populations of English learners and students eligible for free and reduced price meals provided less arts instruction, according to the LA County Arts Ed Profile in 2017.
Founded with the mission to provide quality music education as a core subject in under-resourced schools within marginalized communities, the nonprofit Education Through Music-Los Angeles (ETM-LA) is working to remove barriers to equity and access and close achievement gaps. ETM-LA has grown from two schools reaching 800 students its first year, to reaching 42 schools and over 18,500 students.
A two-year external evaluation published in 2021 by Evaluation Specialists, “Short-Term Impacts of Education Through Music-Los Angeles in Elementary Schools,” looked at ETM-LA’s school-wide approach to providing yearlong, sequential music education. Focusing on outcomes related to socio-emotional wellness and attitudes about learning music, the evaluation reported key findings on the benefits of music, including:
• 95% of ETM-LA partner school teachers believe music education should be offered as part of the core curriculum.
• 92% of ETM-LA partner school teachers said their students were engaged in learning; this was a 40% increase in partner school teachers observing student engagement (most or all of the time) compared to only 7% in control schools receiving intermittent or no music.
Seventh-grader Isaac, who struggled with expressing his feelings, said, “I would be emotional and sometimes take [my anger] out on the wrong people. But when I’m doing music it calms me down.” Isaac found joy and motivation through music, confiding, “It’s made my anxiety better, because school’s kind of stressful. I had like 4 Fs…[now they’re] straight As.”
Fellow student Ruby added, “I feel safe here while I play my keyboard. I honestly don’t know what my life would be like without music.”
Principal Monique Pugh (McKinley K-8 School of Integrated Arts) commented, “Music primes [a student’s] brain for learning, it settles their spirit, and gets them in the right frame of mind.”
Based on the ETM model with over 30 years of success in New York City, ETM-LA’s holistic approach, robust teacher training, and comprehensive design implementation serve as a template for long-term sustainable programming. Strong collaboration with districts/schools, parents and students, educators, community members, local leaders, and businesses, among others, are vital to these efforts.
ETM-LA ultimately aims to help youth reach their fullest potential, whether they choose to continue on in the arts or other sectors. Creativity, innovation, and the arts will help them along the way. Since California’s creative economy is responsible for roughly 23% of the state’s gross regional product (GRP) (The Creative Economy, Otis College Report 2022), we must continue to invest in music and the arts in schools. In November 2021, NBCUniversal and Illumination partnered with ETM and ETM-LA to raise support and awareness of the importance of music education while celebrating the launch of the animated film Sing 2. As Sing 2 honors the life-changing power of music and “dreaming big to reach your goals,” the partnership showcased how key collaborations can amplify positive outcomes for students like Isaac.
“Together, through music, creativity, and innovation,” said Victoria Lanier ETM-LA’s executive director, “we can uplift the future leaders of tomorrow.”
Learn more at etmla.org.