When Uncommon Schools Ocean Hill Elementary launched its music program in 2020, students were still learning remotely because of the pandemic and lessons were on Zoom.
Teaching remotely is difficult enough, but teaching music virtually to kindergarteners, first and second graders poses its own set of challenges. But the school’s music teacher, Jessica Bailey, made it work.
“It was very much singing and visual-movement based,” Bailey said. “We used household items as instruments. I’d tell them to go find a pan that to use for rhythm. We loved pulling in family members too.”
When students finally returned to the classroom this school year and had the opportunity to perform together, Bailey said it brought tears to her eyes.
“The first time that we got to be in the classroom and we all sang a song that we knew. Oh, my goodness. I can’t even express it,” Bailey said. “It just felt so magical.”
During the last two years, the school has been purchasing instruments. It now has a room full of djembes of all shapes and sizes, rhythm sticks, hand drums and egg shakers.
Ocean Hill Elementary is part of the Uncommon Schools network of high performing, free public charter schools in Brooklyn. In addition to Ocean Hill, a music program is flourishing at Kings Elementary, Excellence Boys, Excellence Girls and Leadership Prep Brownsville.
Music education has numerous benefits, including positively impacting academic performance, improving concentration and providing an outlet for creativity. Music also helps students develop social skills because it requires teamwork and collaboration and it fosters work ethic and discipline.
Music classes are an important form of stress and anxiety relief for children while helping them regulate their emotions, which has become even more critical during the pandemic.
In October last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association declared a crisis in child and adolescent mental health tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice.
Bailey said she can see the benefits of music education has on her students. One kindergartener, she said, is non-verbal for the most part during the day.
“But when he gets into my music room and has the opportunity to play a drum, he enjoys it so much,” Bailey said. “He has a bright smile on his face and is totally engaged.”