Playing a winning tune

Chatham County Schools earns national music education distinction

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 4/5/19

SILER CITY — Mary Clayton Jolicouer and her fifth-grade music class broke out the ukuleles Monday afternoon at Virginia Cross Elementary School in Siler City.

She was going to teach them to play …

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Playing a winning tune

Chatham County Schools earns national music education distinction

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Posted

SILER CITY — Mary Clayton Jolicouer and her fifth-grade music class broke out the ukuleles Monday afternoon at Virginia Cross Elementary School in Siler City.

She was going to teach them to play G7 on the small, four-stringed instrument, a difficult three-finger chord that has several variations.

It was another day in music education, a subject for which Chatham County Schools was recently awarded.

The National Association of Music Merchants Foundation named the district one of the 2019 Best Communities for Music Education, alongside 622 other districts across the country. Chatham was just one of three North Carolina districts, joining Guilford County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

According to the NAMM Foundation’s website, the recognition was given to districts with “outstanding efforts by teachers, administrators, parents, students and community leaders who have made music education part of a well-rounded education. Designations are made to districts and schools that demonstrate an exceptionally high commitment and access to music education.”

For Gina Harrison, past president of the Chatham Arts Council and arts education advocate, the award was almost a no-brainer.

“It reinforces the value of the work and emphasizes to the community the treasure in their midst and why continued investment in the public school arts education program is worthwhile and vital,” Harrison said. “There are no better ambassadors for our schools and our community than the faculty and students of the arts education program.”

Amanda Hartness, CCS’s assistant superintendent for academic services and instructional support, cited the community’s history of arts as why music education is emphasized in Chatham County.

“There’s also quite a bit of research that shows that students who are in music programs score higher on standardized testing,” she said. “Students who learn to read music or learn to play music are able to use both sides of their brain and improve their processing speed, which they can use for academics.”

While giving her kids a “finger break” on Monday, Jolicouer said the benefits extend beyond academics to improving critical thinking, understanding abstracts, motor coordination and healthy self-expression.

“You get all those things at the same time,” she said. “When you consider that it’s entirely unique, you can’t do without it because you can’t get those results anywhere else.”

Sharon Allen, the lead arts teacher for the district, cited the commitment of the county government and school district leadership to continuing to offer and improve music education.

“In a time when other school systems have cut music programs...(they) see music as essential to a well-rounded education program,” Allen said, “and they have demonstrated their support by adding music positions, funding materials and experiences for Chatham County students.”

Jolicouer, a Siler City native and 15-year veteran of teaching music in Chatham County Schools, pointed to the progress of music programs throughout the county alongside more funding and attention at the district and county government level.

“As an alumna, it’s gratifying to see how the band programs have grown, (and) the choral programs in middle and high school, and the county continues to give us more and more support,” she said. “Where other counties are seeing cuts and eliminations, we just keep seeing more and more.”

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