New Linn-Mar program reaches to include more students in band, orchestra

Music Connects works to eliminate financial barriers

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MARION — Steve Stickney wants to do the right thing. The director of bands at Linn-Mar High School said that was his motivation for proposing the Music Connects program, a pilot announced earlier this month.

“Looking to the future and looking to ways to improve test scores and instead of cutting music in place of other things, of course I’m a little biased, but we should be increasing the role of music in teaching vital skills that will help our students be successful not only in the classroom but in life,” Stickney said.

Stickney aims to achieve that goal, via Music Connects, by making instrumental music more accessible to fourth-grade students.

Community members can donate money or musical instruments to the program. The money will go toward either the purchase of instruments or summer lesson tuition for the students before their fifth-grade years, when the district band and orchestra programs begin.

Stickney got the idea for the initiative while attending the Symposium on Music in Schools at the Yale School of Music in June 2013, where he received a Yale Distinguished Music Educator Award.

In order to receive support through Music Connects, a student must qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. According to data from the Iowa Department of Education, 19.9 percent of Linn-Mar students in kindergarten through 12th grade fall into that population and that rate ranges from 7.3 percent (at Westfield Elementary School) to 39 percent (at Linn Grove Elementary School) between the district’s seven elementary schools where Music Connects will reach students.

In comparison, data from Stickney shows that only 11.54 percent of fifth-grade students in the district’s instrumental music programs — 11 of 95 (11.58 percent) in orchestra and 19 of 165 in band (11.52 percent) — qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

“The other thing that has traditionally been true with music programs is it’s only been available to families who can afford to purchase or rent an instrument,” Stickney said. “We wanted to try and provide an opportunity for more of these families who have these financial considerations, who may not have thought it possible for their kids to be involved, to do so.”

Stickney said donations of $200 will provide for the purchase of an instrument and $100 will cover one student’s six-week summer lesson fee. The Linn-Mar School Foundation also is helping Music Connects fundraise. Executive Director Shelley Woods said the foundation will solicit community and corporate donations as well as grants. The foundation’s AAA Fund provides dollars for students to participate in sports, fine arts and other activities as well as to take advantage of opportunities such as Advanced Placement exams, but Woods said Music Connects is a more-focused effort to reach a specific need.

“It’s a great collaboration between the school district and the foundation,” Woods said.

Stickney’s goal is to build seven years worth of inventory of musical instruments, though he’s not sure how many instruments that amounts to. He’s seeking flutes, cornets and trumpets, clarinets, trombones, violins, violas and cellos for Music Connects. Musicians will be able to keep their instruments as long as they’re involved in band or orchestra through Linn-Mar.

He also hopes to have between 30 and 50 new students participate in band and orchestra through the program, which he envisions continuing well into the future.

“It makes better students and better members of society,” Stickney said about playing instruments. “We’re not starting this program because we need more kids in our program. We’re very fortunate in the Linn-Mar district to be very well supported by our community and administration. We have very healthy numbers of participation in the high school band program. ... (Music Connects) is really the right thing to do.”

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