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Music Therapy Helps Kids In The Classroom



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It's a unique partnership with one common goal. The Avera Family Wellness Program and the Sioux Falls School District have teamed up to provide a new way to treat behavioral problems in young children. It starts in the classroom as students as young as three years-old pick up a violin and start music therapy.

Though it may not sound like music to your ears, the smile on their faces should say it all.

"This is a program that has helped us help them feel good about themselves or has given them that 'Hey I can do this, I'm pretty cool,'" Hayward Elementary Principal Kiersta Machacek said.

Machacek says over the past three years she has seen kids gain confidence while curbing their aggression and hyper-active behaviors.
    
"We've had less tardies. Discipline is down, major discipline is down," Machacek said.

This violin program started with just 40 students, but now in its fifth year its grown to over 400. The idea is to enhance learning. Kids begin music therapy in the early childhood headstart programs. They use smaller instruments and practice simple drills like standing still and holding the bow.
    
"So all of that is really teaching them how to control their bodies, listen to directions and them ultimately because they have done that, learn how to play a song," Avera Family Wellness Program Coordinator Julie Fieldsend said.

Teachers use suzuki-like violin training, meaning the students never actually read music. They learn rhythm and repetition.

From home to the classroom, the four-stringed instrument is changing the way these kids succeed.

"You know, you can help the child in the classroom, but it's really important that there is support for those parents at home,"Fieldsend said.

And that's where Julie comes in. The Avera Family Wellness Program Coordinator helps the parents of these children find support and resources. Studies show effective mental and behavioral treatment must include treatment for the entire family.

"They fill a need. School budgets are stretched thin and they give us another person we can go to when I have a challenging situation or a positive thing," Machacek explained.

And for 20 minutes each day, these pre-kindergartners work as a group and one on one with their instructors to enhance their learning and development. 

The months of hard work is shown off in April when the kids put on a performance for their friends and families playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

"We have students that are proud of themselves. You can see they have a sense of pride in what they are doing," Machacek said.

The program is at Hayward and Garfield Elementary Schools and is fully funded by private donors and Avera McKennan. Violin lessons are provided by members of the South Dakota Symphony as well as local suzuki violin instructors.
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