Rebuilding the primary school classroom after the epidemic

Roshan Reddy flanked the classroom walls with colored violins and music theory posters, and counted to three. He raised his palm, a chorus of gleaming trumpets and woodwinds came to life, and Adele’s “Easy on Me” first notes filled the band room at PS 11 Elementary School in Brooklyn.

Despite the occasional screech of the clarinet and the rogue saxophone, almost every student was smiling.

It’s been two long years for the fourth and fifth graders of Mr. Reddy’s band, and for music teachers and their students all over New York City. When the Covid-19 pandemic closed schools, PS 11’s music program was one of many that struggled to go online, interrupting children’s introduction to music during some of the most important years of musical development, according to educators and experts.

PS 11 students who had gadgets at home practice in their living rooms, to escape from a fire, in their grandparents’ basements. But many left their machines behind, having to watch from the sidelines as peers tried to keep time with each other over Google Meet.

Fifth grader Diarra Brent, a budding saxophone player, was dismayed that, in the chaos of a closed school, she didn’t bring her saxophone home. “I’ve been chatting crazy because I don’t have the instrument,” she said. “I just listened to them playing. I couldn’t do anything.”

Now that the PS 11 students are back in the classroom, they’re rediscovering their confidence as musicians. But closing the missing instruction gap was no easy feat. “Covid obliterated my programme,” said Mr. Reddy, the school’s squad manager. “It’s not the same for every student anymore.”

The pandemic Music education for many elementary school students stopped at a critical moment—in the years when their brains were just beginning to makesound to meaningIn New York City public schools, elementary music education, which has been stable for five years, declined 11 percent between the 2019-20 school year and 2020-2021, according to the Arts in Schools Report of the New York City Administration.

For students who only have access to music education through their public schools, school closures due to the pandemic have been particularly devastating. But research also suggests that music can help children rebuild what they’ve lost.

PS 11 principal, Abidemi Hope, said having a music program in the school helps her students develop skills beyond academic readiness, such as improving listening and speaking, learning to ask questions, and making complex discoveries. It’s also about giving students in her economically diverse school access to music regardless of their economic situation.

“Everyone should have at least a chance to touch an instrument, learn an instrument, understand that instrument, and play that instrument,” she said.

When Mrs. Hope was named main in 2014The school was academically focused and the music program was small – about 40 students. “I’ve always wanted to change that,” she said.

Ms. Hope hired Roshan Reddy, a working musician, as a full-time music director for her band’s program in 2018. He had already spent two years as a substitute teacher at the New York State Department of Education, teaching in nearly every neighborhood in Brooklyn, but was touched by the vision of Hope’s director of the music program.

“Principal Hope is always trying to do something new,” Mr. Reddy said. “You think you’ve reached the extremes, and then Mrs. Hope looks like we need to go a little higher.”

By the end of Mr. Reddy’s first year, lessons for stringed instruments, guitar, and ukulele were added. “Before that it was really a choice,” said Mr. Reddy. “When I came, I wouldn’t say no to anyone.”

The program has quadrupled in size, buoyed by a combination of school and PTA funds. At their last concert in the spring of 2019, the Fresh Music program students gave their three-hour performances. “The people who played earlier started leaving by the end of the match because it was too long. Mr. Reddy said with a laugh.

The 2020 season of PS 11 was unable to perform a final concert. When schools closed in March, Mr. Reddy wrapped electrical wires, attached class chairs, modified violins, sterilized his instruments, and packed them away in the band’s room locker for storage.

Virtual teaching was a challenge. “At first it was a nightmare,” Mr. Reddy said. He spent hours making video recording assignments for students to upload to Google classrooms. Over the summer, he scoured YouTube for any ideas to further his approach.

In the following school year, each student received a music recorder or ukulele to play in class. Students used Chrome Music Lab to create songs and submit them as assignments. But nothing compares to being in class, said Mr. Reddy, and some students have stopped attending.

As one of Mr. Reddy’s students, Julian Sanon started playing the violin in the second grade. He has not attended online music lessons during the pandemic. Instead, he, his father, and brothers played music together at home and even created a family band that ran for a week. But Sanon misses personal music lessons at school, where he can play more complex arrangements with his drum-line friends.

Now that school is back in person, “everyone around you is bound by the same music,” said Sanon, at one of his favorite places: Mr. Reddy’s music room.

“Yes,” another fifth grader chimed in the drum line, Miles Dutra. “Because you have to play in harmony. If someone messes up, everyone else will fail.”

Sanon nodded. “So when you get it right, it’s kind of, peaceful.” He said.

Next year, budget cuts may force some schools to reevaluate their art programs. School budgets are generally related to the number of students enrolled, and many schools will see a decline in the next school year, after the number of students in public schools in New York City decreases. 6.4 percent since the beginning of the epidemic.

Elizabeth Guglielmo, director of music at New York City Public Schools, said that while music has been hit hard during the pandemic, the arts are essential to the resettlement process. “We always hope that it will be seen as a central topic,” said Ms. Guglielmo.

On PS 11, enrollment decreased by nearly 3 percent Between this school year and the year before, according to Ms Hope, who said she may have to rely more on PS 11. The PTA is relatively large Budget, a resource that many schools do not have, to fund the music program. “I hope the mayor can rethink how we invest in our children,” she said.

As his final year of primary school draws to a close, 10-year-old percussionist Zair Johnson, who made his own cardboard drums in his apartment during the pandemic, can be found Thursday practicing drum line with a shiny aluminum harness of drums dangling on his shoulders.

Johnson loves having all his class tools close at hand. “You can try the congo, violin, piano, djembes, ukulele,” he said. He added that the only instrument he wouldn’t recommend is the cello, but he likes to “get a guitar and start playing”. “It’s quiet for me.”

At home in the evenings, Johnson watches YouTube drumming tutorial videos and uses scenes from the 2002 movie “Drumline” to learn new percussion techniques.

Mr. Reddy understands enthusiasm from his early days as a musician, when he was raised on a rural farm in Delaware. “Music was my best friend,” he said.

At school, music instilled confidence and allowed him to participate socially in class without words. He does the same for his calmer students now. “Children really find their voice through music in a way that they can’t through something else,” he said.

As the 2022 fifth grade class at PS 11 prepares to graduate this month, some of Mr. Reddy’s students have already agreed to enroll in middle schools with specialty music programs. The goal of the band program is to prepare students for the most challenging music education. But mostly, says Mr. Reddy, he just wants the kids to leave school and they love music.

“It’s not about trying to create a little Mozart, it’s about finding the students for their own strength,” he said. “We are the ones who have to carry the music through this moment.”