MAYFIELD - All students in third through sixth grade in the Mayfield Central School District have been learning how to "tickle the ivories."
Luke Horst, the music teacher at Mayfield Elementary School responsible for teaching the piano lab, said he is thrilled with how well the program has been received by both the students and parents in the district.
"At Christmas time this year, it was amazing the number of kids that got new keyboards this year," he said.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Luke Horst, piano lab instructor at Mayfield Elementary, assists sixth-grade student Lauren Ellis as she plays a musical piece on an electric keyboard in the piano lab at the school Wednesday.
The piano lab is in its third year providing piano instruction all students in third through through sixth grade.
Nick Criscone, the principal at Mayfield Elementary School, said a few years ago he was listening to Horst play piano during one of the school's assemblies. He said playing piano was something Horst should teach the students.
Horst was able to gather information about what the program would require - including the cost - and the benefits to the students, before it was approved.
Horst said teaching students how to play the piano offers a number of benefits, including improving hand/eye coordination, teaching students to read music, improving discipline and improving performance in other subjects.
According to information provided by Horst, among the academic benefits playing an instrument can provide a student are improved standardized test scores, better SAT scores, improvement on math, science and language arts tests. Studies also have linked music education to better self-esteem and emotional health.
Horst said as a practical matter, it also is easier to teach piano in a group setting than it would be instruments such as drums or trumpets.
There are basically two parts to the program, Horst said. The students all have a 40-minute piano lab class once a week. Horst said there is a maximum of 16 students at a time that can be in a class because that is how many keyboards they were able to get for the program.
Then there is the advanced piano class, which is strictly voluntary, Horst said. If a student in fourth through sixth grade has shown an accelerated ability or skill at the instrument, Horst will invite them to participate in the advanced class. However, it requires them to give up some of their own time - possibly including some lunch time - to take part.
"These kids have shown drive and want to go forward," he said
The students in the advanced class also prepare for a recital. A recent performance featured 21 students of the 30 to 35 in the advanced class, Horst said.
"I can't believe how far the advanced kids have come," he said.
Criscone said students that have struggled academically or with behavior have found more success with the piano lab. Those students have worked harder and been more respectful, he said, partly because they have been given the opportunity to do something that is different than the usual classroom instruction.
Criscone said as far as the results of the students' math tests, the information is being collected and analyzed.
Paul Williamsen, the superintendent of the Mayfield school district, said the 287 students in third through sixth grade have the opportunity to learn another skill because of the program.
He said expanding the program to the Junior/Senior High School is a possibility.
Criscone said expanding the program could include letting older students write and produce their own music.