Assignment: Education – music therapy engages students

A first of its kind partnership in the region

“Sesame Street” has taught us that music helps kids learn.

“They may think we’re just signing “Old MacDonald” or signing “Up on the House Top”, but we know we’re working on something far more than just singing those familiar, fun songs for them,” said Amy Schaack, music therapist and owner of Life in Harmony Music Therapy.

“We primarily service individuals who have development disabilities or neurologic impairment,” said Schaack.

For the first time, they’ve been hired to work with an entire classroom of students in the intellectually disabled program at Summit Elementary in La Crosse.

The therapists are teaching these kindergarten through third-grade students basic skills, for example steps for using the bathroom.

“The overall goal is to really learn and be able to follow all of our school rules, and to follow those no matter where they are… in the classroom, in the playground, in the hallway, in the bathroom,” said Resa Hawes, intellectual disabilities and autism program support teacher for the La Crosse School District. “We really want them to be able to be a part of our school environment without having to have those constant reminders of what the rules are and how to follow them.”

The educators at Summit provide the music therapists with the concepts they want the students to learn and the language used to accomplish those skills.

The music therapists then turn those rules into song lyrics to re-enforce proper behaviors.

“So we use what we know from literature and our research and background that a melody helps the brain recall abstract or information that’s harder to grasp,” said Schaack. “So we put it to a song so there’s repetition.”

The therapists also add actions and sign language to the behaviors the students are learning to help solidify their understanding. The teachers say it’s working.

“They’re able to listen to one-word directives,” said Hawes. “And if we lower our voice then they tend to lower theirs. So, we’re seeing a lot of carryover which is really powerful.”

Proving, once again, how music can have an impact on learning.

The music therapists from Life in Harmony were hired using money received through a grant given by the La Crosse Public Education Foundation.

The efforts of these therapists will be felt by every student at Summit Elementary. All of the music recordings will be placed on a shared drive that can be used by all of the classroom teachers within the school.