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Making Connections Through MusicEstablished in 2006, the Partners in Music program has been a significant part of the music education for fifth-grade students within SCASD. Providing an opportunity for the young instrumentalists to collaborate with students in the Penn State School of Music, Partners in Music offers both instruction and the chance to make music together. Since 2006, the partnership has grown to include three ensembles, two bands and a string orchestra, comprised of approximately 150 SCASD students each year.

Recognizing a need for the expansion of music education and experience for his students, Park Forest and Gray’s Wood’s music teacher, Roy Schaeffer approached PSU Professor of Music Education, Linda Thornton, to find a solution. “Roy and I were discussing two needs,” Thornton says. “His fifth-grade students missed having a full ensemble opportunity in the fall, and I was looking for an authentic experience for my upper-level music education students that would involve them being up in front of real, live students.”

From that discussion, Partners in Music was born and implemented at Park Forest Elementary and Gray’s Woods Elementary, with promising results. “We found over 90 percent participation from the students and added Radio Park Elementary the next year,” states Thornton. “We then added the whole district after that, celebrating our 10th anniversary last fall.”

Through the program, students rehearse six Wednesdays during the fall semester. The rehearsals take place on Penn State’s campus and are conducted by senior music education majors, culminating in a final concert.

Since its inception, Partners in Music has shown significant benefits to the participants. “For the SCASD students, they get to play in a much larger ensemble than they normally would; they get to work with a variety of conductors, influencing their flexibility as musicians; their instrumental instruction time is dramatically increased by at least 75 percent; they get to meet students from other schools that will be in the band and orchestra when they enter middle school; and they get additional concert experience,” explains Thornton.

The benefits of the program are not just for SCASD students. As Thornton recognizes, the impact the program has on her PSU students is significant. “My students receive sustained experiences conducting. It is unusual in music education nationwide to have this opportunity prior to student teaching.”

Since 2006, Partners in Music has seen more than 1,500 SCASD students and 80 PSU students come through the program. According to Thornton, Partners in Music provides an opportunity to not only grow as a musician, but to make connections through music. “Many of the SCASD students look up to the PSU students, both personally and musically. They are impressed with their advanced musicianship. The PSU students not only get to know what students this age are like, but also what they can accomplish musically.”

Photo: Stephanie Swindle