Welcome to the Fairview Violin Project, a collaborative project between the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, the Summer Star Foundations for Nature, the Arts, and Humanity, and the Monroe County Community School Corporation.
The Fairview Project began in 2008 with the goal of providing violin instruction to young children without access to such instruction and with the intention of answering some basic research questions concerning the cognitive and social effects of early violin study.
Who are the Fairview students? They are best described through an email to the IU student instructors from Kasia Bugaj, the doctoral student who supervised the Fairview Project in its first two years:
There have been some questions as to why a few of the Fairview students seem different than students in schools that many of you might remember attending. For those of you who are new or have not been aware of the background of some of our students, here some fragments of information. Please keep in mind that the population at Fairview is diverse and that I am only highlighting a few specifics.
84% of the kids get free lunch and 6% get reduced price lunch. This means that most of the families do not have much money. The Fairview area includes a housing project, trailer courts, and a safe house for abused women and children. Around the school you will see kids with maroon backpacks. Those are from the "Backpack Buddies" program, which sends a backpack filled with food home with the kids each evening.
Fairview is a Title 1 school, meaning that it receives federal funding that is supposed to help bridge the achievement gap between low income students and other students. The bottom line is that while some of our students come from wonderful family situations where they get a lot of care and support, many do not. Often the children live in unstable situations; some of the parents are incarcerated, some might abuse drugs or alcohol, some of the students are homeless (we had one little boy whose family lived in a car)--in many cases they move around a lot, often they have large families and no one to take care of the kids, and so on. Many times when you see a student acting up, it turns out that they went to bed at 1 or 2 in the morning, or that someone was throwing beer bottles at their bedroom wall all night during some party that a parent was having. Or that they didn't take their medication (or that someone else in the family took it).
I am not sending you this so that you feel sorry for our students but just so that you know where many of them are coming from since there were a few questions about what's "wrong" with these kids. I don't think there is a single kid in this group who hasn't done a fantastic job at some point. If we do our job right (set them up step by step EVERY DAY--violin setup, bow holds, etc.) we should demand the best out of them and they are very likely to deliver. Let me know if you have any questions or if there is anything going on in your groups that seems to be getting out of hand or that you would like help with (or if anything is going very RIGHT--tell me that too!).
All the best,
The instructional model includes elements from various approaches including El Sistema, Suzuki, String Project Consortium, and the IU String Academy pre-college program, all integrated within a traditional public school setting. Multiple levels of student instructors, which include graduate and undergraduate Jacobs School students, are led by Brenda Brenner, Associate Professor of Music Education, and work together to form a pedagogical community in which each individual contributes their unique voice to the curriculum. Musical skill and artistry, sequential instruction for children and pre-service teachers, and alignment of violin curriculum with other core curricula are central to the model. This guided pre-service teaching experience with at-risk children suggests that this type of school-community musical model fosters a deep understanding of diversity, and helps young music educators develop culturally relevant teaching practices while providing at-risk students with valuable instruction.
In 2008, the Fairview Project began with all first-graders studying violin, since this age-group mirrored the age that young children typically begin violin instruction in the IU String Academy after which the project was modeled, and also because we were particularly interested in the effects of violin lessons on the emergent reading process. Thanks to a very generous grant from the Summer Star Foundation for Nature, Arts and Humanity, the program has expanded over the past ten years to provide violin instruction to all first- and second-graders with optional instruction for students in grades three through six. All students taking violin at Fairview receive large group instruction twice a week, with first- and second-graders receiving 30 min classes, and third- through sixth-graders taking 45-minute classes. Only students in the sixth grade who are participating in the advanced group are allowed to take the instruments home to practice.
- What is the impact of violin study on cognitive development, attendance and parent and student attitudes toward school?
- Do teachers perceive changes in the children in relationship to the ability to concentrate, maintain self-discipline, and attack difficult problems?
- Are parents more involved and excited about their child’s educational experience as a result of this project?
- What is the effect of the project on emergent reading patterns?
Fairview Student Benefits
Through both our research as well as anecdotal evidence, we have found that there are multiple benefits for the Fairview students. Teachers and administrators report that skills learned in violin such as listening, the ability to focus, the discipline of following a routine, and the ability to work with others carry over into the children’s classroom work as well as other aspects of the school. Additionally some students who struggle in other areas are successful in violin class, which builds confidence and self-esteem. One teacher mentioned that it is great that the children feel that they are “experts at something that their classroom teacher doesn’t know how to do.” At the end of the first year of the project, one first-grade teacher reported that although she could not draw a direct relationship between violin instruction and academic work, the 2008 first-grade class was the first class in her 27 years of teaching in which all of the students were reading at or above grade level, including several children in the class with identified learning disabilities.
Developing the ability to work with others and building social relationships among the IU student instructors and the children are important objectives of the violin instruction at Fairview. Interviews revealed that some children who are discipline problems in their classrooms excel in violin, perhaps because violin study appeals to kinesthetic and aural learning styles or perhaps because of the student-centered approach built into the violin curriculum, which often places children in leadership roles.
Jacobs Student Benefits
Although we began the Fairview Project with our attention centered on the Fairview students, it wasn’t long before we realized that a significant change was occurring in the IU student instructors.
Without a doubt, all instructors believed that they learned a great deal from this experience. For many, it was their first experience in the “real world,” and they carried away a deepened cultural understanding that went far beyond the experience of teaching strings. Some are inspired to begin their own projects, and many have gone on to work in similar programs upon graduation. Others realized that this type of teaching is not for them. One student instructor initially taught for the money, but came away with the realization that “teachers teach not for the income, but the outcome.” One student wrote about the experience as a way to change and beautify the lives of all involved: “I see in each of my students the potential to become not only a great violin player, but also a noble and kind person. My students have taught me where to find the true essence of joy, which is in the simplicity and innocence of a young, growing child. These kids need music. It is a way for them to continue developing the real attributes within, which are those that deal with the beauty of their soul.”
Another outcome of the violin project has been the change in the attitude and behavior of parents. Both teachers and administrators observed parents paying closer attention to their children’s performance at concerts, no longer bringing food and drinks, talking, and entering and leaving at will. Parents repeatedly express great pride in seeing their children playing the violin. One parent wrote that her son loved playing the violin and that it had changed what she saw in him. She reported that he was a pretty a “rough and tumble” kid who had started getting in trouble, but that violin had made him think in a different way (K. Heise, personal communication). She was so excited about an upcoming concert at the university that she bought him new dress clothes even though money was tight. Another parent expressed gratitude for the violin project since it provided her daughter, who had never been interested in anything in school, something that she loved.
Each semester since the project’s inception, we have had the students perform, both at Fairview School as well as on the IU campus. Many families have never been to an event on campus, despite living very close. Here you will see a short excerpt from a collaboration with the IU Pre-college ballet program.
The investigation of the cognitive and social effects of early violin study on young at-risk children was one of the primary goals of the Fairview Violin Project. Since the inception of the project in 2008, quantitative data has been collected for over 300 subjects. This data includes pre- and post- test scores on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children¸ scores on various Monroe County Community Schools tests, ISTEP scores, course grades, attendance, and violin achievement scores. One component of the research is a quantitative study designed to compare of the cognitive growth of students at Fairview with that of students at an elementary school in the same district with similar demographics. Over the past seven years there have been a number of challenges associated with collecting “hard” data on this population, most notably the initial difficulty in communicating with families, turnover of teachers and district administration, lack of consistency from year-to-year in the school district’s policies and strategies regarding curriculum and assessment, and student mobility. In the past two years, new research possibilities have arisen, partly in response to the aforementioned challenges and also because of the rich stories that have emerged about Fairview violin students as well as the Indiana University students who have been teaching in the project. We have learned that quantitative data does not tell the whole story about the power of music to change lives. As the project has unfolded, it has become evident that the outcomes of the project are much more far-reaching than originally anticipated, and that it is important to examine the effects of the Fairview Violin Project on the Indiana University students teaching in the program, the impact of the project on best practices throughout the United States, and the potential for the project to shape arts policy locally and nationally.
In 2010, with the support of Jacobs School friend Ann Harrison, we began the Attica Violin Project in Attica, Indiana. This project has been an enormous success on many levels. Two Jacobs School doctoral students in music education have taught alongside music teachers from the Attica schools and provided instruction for children in first through third grade. These children have performed for the Indiana state legislature and enjoy a huge outpouring of community support.
In addition, in 2013, Brenda Brenner worked with the Danville, IL school district to create a similar program, with the generous support of Jacobs friends, the Mervis family.
The Arts as an Avenue to Success
The power of the music as a vehicle for social change is evident from the reflections of all those involved at Fairview and its sister projects. The founder of the El Sistema movement, José Antonio Abreu, spoke of the lack of identity and self-esteem that accompanies poverty and the power of music to provide a child with “a noble identity” that “makes him a role model for his family and his community.” This quote from a veteran Fairview teacher about the violin project exemplifies Abreu’s words:
"I think the biggest thing is that the children don’t realize what their possibilities are…If we start changing that idea and get them connected with some people outside of their own community, maybe it’ll start changing their ideas about what they can do; help them get out of the circle of generational poverty that starts when you don’t see any other lifestyle for yourself. For them to have the opportunity to try out things that so many kids do that they don’t get to; and the fact that the children and their parents start to see some new possibilities– that for me is probably the most important benefit."
To close, please watch a video of a Fairview 3rd grader. Bimini began in the first class at Fairview in 2008, continued to take lessons in the IU String Academy, and took orchestra throughout middle school. Here you see the power of music to change lives in action!