Cunningham Program Uses Music Therapy to Reach out to Students; Instructors Use Music to Teach Children a Variety of Subjects

Article excerpt

Byline: mark pettus

Music provides a container for all kinds of learning. Teachers can sometimes strike a chord with students by using music to teach history, math and even geography.

Now, thanks to fortuitous timing, a progressive principal, and a hand full of generous benefactors, Cunningham Creek Elementary School is even using music to teach motor skills and socialization to its most physically and mentally challenged students.

When Minda Gordon, a music therapist, graduated from the University of Georgia 20 years ago, she went to Emory University Hospital to work with geriatric patients. She says there she used music to help the elderly overcome depression and isolation. Since then Gordon has worked in schools, hospitals, and hospice - any place there are people who can benefit from the use of music to improve their health.

Betsy Wierda, principal of Cunningham Creek Elementary and a member of the board of the St. Johns County Cultural Coalition, says she is committed to bringing the arts to her students. Last year she launched Cunningham Arts Reaches Everyone (CARE), a cooperative effort between the Exceptional Student Education program at the school, the Cummer Museum of Art, the Cultural Arts Center at Ponte Vedra Beach and the University of North Florida.

Meanwhile, The Woodcock Foundation, founded by John and Polly Guth as a way to use their family's creativity and resources to help meet community development needs, sought to invest approximately $2 million per year in selected areas of interest, including the arts, where they can identify individuals with strong leadership skills who will use the money for the greatest good.

Now Gordon, Wierda and the Foundation are working together to bring music therapy to Cunningham Creek's ESE students. But putting the program together took a little bit of luck.

After the CARE program started last year, Weirda learned she had a volunteer at her school who was a trained music therapist.

"I was a parent at the time, and [Cunningham Creek music teacher] Lori Zentz asked me to volunteer, so I got on the CARE committee" Gordon said.

Once Zentz brought the principal and the parent together, Weirda and Gordon went to work trying to create a workable music therapy program. By tapping into her connections, Weirda was able to convince the Cultural Arts Center at Ponte Vedra Beach to provide enough funding to hire Gordon part-time beginning in January.

When the funding from the Cultural Arts Center was gone, Cunningham Creek's School Advisory Committee agreed to fund the program for the remainder of the school year. A grant from the Woodcock Foundation will allow Gordon to continue offering therapy at the school through next year. …