Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child: Music Education at Portland’s David Douglas School District
Among the hundreds of parents, teachers, artists and arts organization leaders who have advocated tirelessly for the establishment of the Arts Education & Access Fund is David Douglas School District Elementary Music Teacher, Val Ellett. Val’s personal story is a powerful example of how much we can accomplish by making music and the arts part of the core curriculum in our schools – as the David Douglas School District has done. And her words remind us why it is so critical that we continue advocating to ensure that the Arts Education & Access Fund reaches every classroom and community that it was intended to serve.
My name is Val Ellett, and I am a general music K-5 teacher in the David Douglas school district. I have been teaching music for 17 years. I am also on the board of the Oregon Music Education Association and a performing member of The Portland Wind Symphony.
David Douglas school district is located in southeast Portland and serves over 10,000 students in grades K through 12. Of these students, nearly 24 percent are English language learners. At last count, our district had about 76 different languages spoken. We also have a very high population of students who receive free or reduced lunch, title one services, and other medical and social services.
David Douglas has always maintained a strong commitment to music education. We’ve created and maintained a district‐wide common music curriculum and assessments, which hold true to the National Association for Music Education’s guidelines that music education is a core subject area not “an extra”.
In my own school, there is a very diverse population of student needs. We have students who are learning the English language and students who function in music classes despite facing challenging issues like as autism, spinal injuries, birth defects, diabetes, attention deficit disorder, depression, blindness, and even homelessness. Yet, every single day I get the joy of seeing these students come into my classroom and all of the world fades away while they get to experience, and learn, and do music. Music is the great equalizer.
Every child in every elementary school in Portland can be engaged in this same way. They can be singing, playing instruments, moving to music, reading and writing music, composing and arranging music (yes, even in kindergarten!), analyzing and critiquing music, and experiencing music from many different cultures and time periods.
As I plan my lessons every day, I insure daily opportunities for students to reinforce language and literacy skills and reinforce basic math skills. My music lessons often help connect the two sides of the brain and provides sensory experiences to help improve both fine and gross motor control. I offer opportunities to increase listening skills, develop historical and cultural background knowledge, and foster cooperation and teamwork.
Two months ago, I had a mom email me, telling me that her son (who was new to our school) was struggling with wanting to go to school. She told me something amazing… on the days that he had music class, he lit up, and jumped out of bed, and was delighted to got to school that day. For certain, music class helps provide disconnected kids get a connection to school and learning because elementary music teachers are the whole school’s teacher.
Over the years, I figure I’ve taught music to over 10,000 students. If it weren’t for the continued funding to keep music education a part of their core curriculum, that would be ten thousand kids who may never have found their voice through music education.
There are about that same amount of students in Portland who would so greatly benefit from having music taught to them as part of their core curriculum.
We need to teach to the whole child.
We need to think about our future, and we need to catch up with what the rest of the world already knows.
I believe that music and the arts are the most powerful force a community can invest in.
Last November, Portland voters overwhelmingly supported the establishment of the Arts Education & Access Fund to restore arts teachers to every Portland elementary school and increase access to the arts citywide. Please join us in advocating that Portland City Council act quickly and thoughtfully to shore up and secure Portland’s new Arts Tax. We want to ensure that it is successfully and efficiently collected and distributed to the classrooms and communities that it was designed to reach. E-mail Portland City Council today and share your perspective on the importance of honoring the will of the voters and investing our tax dollars in arts education and access: