Peabody's struggling national model

November 17, 1993

With the meeting of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts in Baltimore this week, educators come face to face with one of the crueler ironies facing the city's public schools.

Recently the Peabody Prep Outreach Program, which sends talented music and arts teachers into the public schools to work with the city's most disadvantaged children, was named by the guild as a national model for such efforts. So far so good. But the program, which depends on private and foundation support, is so strapped for cash this year that it has not been able to expand beyond the two schools, Tench Tilghman and Ashburton elementary schools, where it is now in place.

Thus the Peabody Prep is in the odd position of having created a program that will be replicated across the country at a time when local budget cuts and a dearth of private giving have put continuation of the inspiration for these efforts in doubt.

Since 1985, the Peabody Prep Outreach Program has served about 6,000 children in the Baltimore City public schools at a cost of about $60,000 per year. The impetus for the program grew out of local budget cuts that stripped most city schools of art and music teachers during the 1980s. Unfortunately, arts and music still are regarded as educational "frills" by the people who run our public school systems.

Yet many studies suggest that art and music instruction are vitally important elements in the education of young children. Early childhood music education, in particular, appears to serve an integrative function, helping children to develop essential skills of attentiveness, concentration, discipline and both verbal and non-verbal expression. Teachers at Tench Tilghman, for example, report that after their students' weekly lesson with Peabody Prep Outreach instructor Bret Hershey, the children return to class more focused, better behaved and with greater self-esteem.

The therapeutic effects of music and art instruction are particularly important to children whose lives away from school allow for little of childhood's untroubled innocence. Many have witnessed shootings, imprisonments, abrupt moves of their households down the block or across town. For such children, the disciplined freedom of creative expression plays a vital role in fostering their mental and emotional well-being.

That is why we hope the recognition accorded the Peabody Prep by the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts will spur private and foundation support for this worthy effort. The arts have an important role to play in public schools. Baltimore ought to be leading the way in bringing such programs to all children.

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