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Two elementary schools receive Mockingbird Foundation grants for music education

Music class at Red Hawk Ridge Elementary“I feel so grateful to get to spend my days sharing the joy of music with children!”

Even on a day when she had nearly lost her voice, Red Hawk Ridge Elementary music teacher Ellen Kennedy was able to use the magic of music to keep her students engaged and excited. With the ring of a bell, or a few notes on a recorder, they instantly knew whether to sit down, stand up, watch her tap out a rhythm with her hands and feet, or try to replicate that rhythm themselves. They were thrilled when she brought out some hand drums of various sizes so they could continue to have fun learning rhythmic patterns, and so much more.

“Music strengthens your work ethic, makes you listen with a critical yet encouraging ear, forces you to work as a team, and makes you think outside of the box,” explained Kennedy, who was a professional musician before she became a music educator.

Kennedy has enough hand drums for her entire class, but only enough xylophones and other instruments for about half of her students to use at once. However, a $1,000 grant from the Mockingbird Foundation is about to change that.

“Our main purchase will be a new alto xylophone,” Kennedy said. “I’ve also picked out some really fun hand percussion instruments as well as digital recording equipment to capture performance memories on the stage and in class.”

Music class at Red Hawk Ridge ElementaryThe Mockingbird Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports music education for children. It was founded in 1997 by fans of the rock band “Phish.” The band has a large and loyal fan base, fondly known as “Phish heads,” who support the foundation and make recommendations about schools in their communities that would benefit from a foundation grant. In the past 26 years, the Mockingbird Foundation has distributed $2.3 million through some 600 grants in all 50 states. This year, the foundation awarded grants to two Cherry Creek School District schools – Red Hawk Ridge and Walnut Hills Elementary – where music teacher Nicole Kerr has high hopes and high expectations for her students.

“She has set a goal that she wants every student who leaves Walnut Hills to go to middle school knowing how to read music,” explained Walnut Hills Principal Kali Williams. “Her students will leave Walnut Hills with that skill of knowing and understanding what those symbols mean – that’s another form of literacy.”

Williams said Walnut Hills will purchase additional instruments for their students which will continue to help them develop higher level thinking skills around numbers and patterns. The grant will also help build the school’s choir program.

“We’re really excited about bringing music back (after COVID) and being able to connect our music program with what we’re doing in Art and STEM – we’re a STEAM school – so we want to connect music with art with technology. This will support that collaboration piece around integrated arts,” Williams added.

Music class at Red Hawk Ridge ElementaryBoth schools are incredibly grateful for the foundation’s support.

“I think the Mockingbird Foundation speaks volumes to how much these people understand that in order to continue hearing great music, we need to keep inspiring and supporting young musicians,” Red Hawk Ridge music teacher Kennedy said. She knows what a positive and powerful impact music has on her students.

“For some kids, getting to sing on stage as Matilda is the only reason they get up in the morning and go to school. For others, music is the one class of the day they get to escape from their reading struggles with dyslexia. In addition, there are several studies showing a correlation between kids having a creative outlet during the school day and higher test scores, greater emotional wellbeing, and lower dropout rates.”

Posted 10/29/2023.