8 year old Deion Searles is a third grader at Camden Street School in Newark’s central ward, one of seven schools in the district to receive a share of the 250 brand new instruments donated through the VH1’s Save the Music Foundation. At Camden Street School, students in grades K-4 will now be able to learn to play the violin.
“I never ever, ever, ever used a real guitar or a violin or a tuba, nothing like tat. It feels one hundred percent good, and plus I’m really really, really, really, really excited.”
The VH1 Save The Music Foundation is a nonprofit that aims to restore music education programs in public schools. Since its inception in 1997, the group has donated $53 million worth of new instruments to more than 2,000 public schools.
Chiho Findler is Senior Director of Programs and Policy for the foundation. Findler says the benefits of music education are astounding, adding that exposure to instrumental music programs have a positive effect on academic performance, self-expression, and self-esteem. But as schools across the nation increasingly face budget cuts, music is often the first thing to go.
“My parents were able to purchase instruments and pay for lessons, and stuff like that, I think in many cases, many kids across the country do not have that luxury, but its really not a luxury it’s a right. Everybody should have that opportunity.”
The Newark Public Schools system serves more low-income students than any other district in New Jersey, and a majority of its K-8 schools do not have instrumental music programs. Something Actor and Singer Algee Smith, says moved him to make an appearance for the unveiling of the instruments.
“When they go home we don’t know what type of outlet they have, and that’s not their parents fault its just circumstance. So to be able to come to school and have an expressive outlet that’s something that can take your mind off anything else, for me music allows me to just zone out completely, so if I can imagine them doing the same thing, then that’s extremely important.”
Senior Director of Programs and Policy for Save The Music Chiho Findler, says this is only the beginning, over the next five years more than half of Newark’s traditional public schools will receive $60,ooo each for new musical instruments and programming.
“Thirty-Eight schools in City of Newark Public School System do not have instrumental music programs, so really its our hope that together with everybody, by the end of the five year journey, every single child in the district no matter what school they go to, will have an opportunity.”
Local performing arts organizations including the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra are joining the effort by providing free tickets to students and families to attend their events this season, as well as coaching opportunities by professional musicians. But for these kids the instruments alone are the high note of the new school year.