Kids music

Piano Labs program teaches music and confidence to kids


Brayden Washington, 10, loves experimenting with creating new sounds in piano class at Ann J. Kellogg Elementary School.

He said he loved freestyle, using the keyboard settings to experiment with sounds of hip-hop and jazz. He also enjoys creating sound effects like the ones he hears in cartoons.

“It’s fun, and I can do fun stuff with the sounds I make,” he said.

Bryce Munn, summer youth development worker, listens to Brayden Washington, 10, play the keyboard on Thursday, July 22, 2021 at Ann J Kellogg Elementary School in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Washington is one of 68 students from Battle Creek who enrolled in Piano Labs this year, a program run by The Gilmore in partnership with the WK Kellogg Foundation, Battle Creek Public Schools and other community organizations.

This year’s class is the largest yet, despite the challenges of managing the pandemic.

Dazyah Lee, 9, Brayden Washington, 10, and Del'Viair Flowers, 10, practice the piano on Thursday, July 22, 2021 at Ann J Kellogg Elementary School in Battle Creek, Michigan.

In addition to teaching music, the program teaches students to develop self-confidence while encouraging them to enjoy the process of improving themselves at something through practice.

“It’s about learning that music as an art is constantly crashing and learning to fix it and be okay with it,” said Sara Cleland, music teacher.

The program is free and open to any student in Grades 3 to 5 interested in taking piano lessons. Twice a week, students learn the basics of the piano and learn to appreciate music as an art.

“Some of our extremely shy kids have thrived in this classroom as a result of this session,” said Tammy Westbrook, Extended Learning Coordinator at Ann J. Kellogg. “At first they are a little reluctant, but then, once they learn that they are able to be themselves, to express themselves and to know that you don’t have to do everything perfectly. … it’s incredible.”

Sara Cleland is helping 10-year-old Maliel Williams learn piano on Thursday, July 22, 2021 at Ann J Kellogg Elementary School in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Piano Labs is supported by a grant of $ 891,000 from the WK Kellogg Foundation. The grant cycle began in 2019 and is for staffing, equipment and program continuation at Battle Creek.

“When we talk about education, we are really talking about the education of the child as a whole, and it goes beyond math and reading or academic education, but it focuses on health and socio-emotional well-being, ”said Megan Russell Johnson, a program officer for the WK Kellogg Foundation. “Music really benefits children in all of these types of ways.”

Music education also helps children develop their creative thinking skills and the ability to concentrate, said Leslie Baron, education and community engagement manager for The Gilmore.

“Music is one of those things that really stimulates intellectual growth. We have seen an improvement in children’s scores and their ability to concentrate,” she said.

Deondra Ramsey, Assistant Director of the Ann J. Kellogg Extended Learning Program, saw the students benefit from the lessons.

“Seeing them being creative, and in the process of having difficulty knowing the notes, or just being able to focus and hone and learn different skills… it’s good to see a few of them really s ‘put it there,’ she mentioned.

Nine-year-old Dazyah Lee had never taken music lessons before setting up Piano Labs.

9-year-old Dazyah Lee plays the piano on Thursday, July 22, 2021 at Ann J Kellogg Elementary School in Battle Creek, Michigan.

She has already learned a lot, like how to read music and how to perform songs for the rest of her class.

Lee has also learned that she is good at the piano.

“It’s a bit easy,” she said. “It’s fun, relaxing.”

The Gilmore hopes to continue to develop the program by offering classes to college graduates of Piano Labs.

“We really wanted the graduating elementary school students to be able to continue in one way or another,” Baron said.

The Gilmore partners with other organizations to make piano lessons widely available to children across the community. This summer, the organization is working with the Burma Center, Voces, 21st Century After School Program, and New Level Sports Ministries to offer classes in more locations.

This summer, music lessons are held at Ann J. Kellogg, Valley View Elementary and the Burma Center.

“We hope this becomes a permanent community lab,” Baron said of the Burma Center. “It’s a really cool way for kids to have the chance to explore this, without it breaking the bank for their families.”

Contact reporter Elena Durnbaugh at (269) 243-5938 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @ElenaDurnbaugh.


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