Closing the achievement gap between low-income and affluent students could be as simple as do-re-mi. In a study out Sept. 9, 2014 from Northwestern University, researchers looked at the impact of music education on at-risk children’s nervous systems and found that music lessons could help them develop language and reading skills. The study is the first to document the influence of after-school music education on the brains of disadvantaged children, as opposed to affluent children receiving private lessons.

Researchers from the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern spent two summers with children in Los Angeles who were receiving music lessons through Harmony Project, a non-profit organization providing free music education to low-income students. In order to document how music education changed children’s brains, students were hooked up to a neural probe that allowed researchers to see how children “distinguished similar speech sounds, a neural process that is linked to language and reading skills,” according to a press release.

Students from the study, ages six to nine, were divided into two groups. The first group consisted of children who received two years of music education by the end of the study, while the second group of children had only received one year of lessons. This led researchers to discover that children’s brains only started to respond to the music education after two years of lessons. One year was not enough to have a definitive impact.

“We used a quick but powerful neural probe that allowed us to gauge speech processing with unprecedented precision. With it, we found that the brain changes only followed two years of music training,” Dr. Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, said in a press release. “These findings are a testament that it’s a mistake to think of music education as a quick fix, but that if it’s an ongoing part of children’s education, making music can have a profound and lifelong impact on listening and learning.”

Leaders at Harmony Project approached the researchers after the non-profit observed that their students were performing much better than other public school students in the area. Since 2008, over 90 percent of high school seniors who participated in Harmony Project’s free music lessons went on to college, even though the high school dropout rates in the surrounding Los Angeles areas can reach up to 50 percent, according to a Northwestern press release.

“Now we know this success is rooted, at least in part, in the unique brain changes imparted by making music,” Dr. Margaret Martin, founder of Harmony Project, said in the press release.

Kraus told The Huffington Post that the study could be a case for expanding music education in school.

“It would appear that music is an effective strategy for helping to close the achievement gap,” Kraus said. “What seems to be happening is that this experience of making music is helping to create a more efficient brain, a brain that is going to be able to help a person learn and communicate, especially through sound.”

The Harmony Project and the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory have teamed up before to study how music education impacts students’ grades. Researchers previously showed that after one year, second-grade students participating in Harmony Project maintained or improved their grades. This compares to peers from the same schools whose grades’ dipped after not participating in music lessons.

“Existing research indicates that kids from poor homes are not learning to read in the first four years of school –- while kids from middle-class and affluent homes are,” Martin previously told The Atlantic. “Given the importance of reading in achieving an education, this finding is stunning.”

By Rebecca Klein | Rebecca.Klein@huffingtonpost.com


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CLEVELAND, Ohio – Inside the Judson Manor retirement community in Cleveland, Ohio, they have about 100 senior residents. One is 66 years old. One is 77. Another is 93. And then there’s Marissa Plank. “And I’m 24,” said Marissa. That’s right, 24.

“Just turned 24,” she said.

Plank lives in a one bedroom apartment on the 10th floor of Judson Manor.

“I live here with my peeps, as I call them, my neighbors,” Plank said. “I’m really just not looking forward to graduating because I have to leave. I mean it’s literally the best way to live.”

When she’s not mingling with the other girls at her retirement community, Plank is a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music. And it was here that she first heard about a deal they were offering over at Judson — free rent — in exchange for monthly performances.

It was a deal too good to pass up. So now she and two other college students are fully immersed in their golden years.

Initially, some of the residents were concerned about letting in college students, with their wild parties and all — but not anymore.

“Those young people do a lot for us. They bring us alive,” said one resident.

“It’s just nice to have the young people here,” said another.

“They become good friends,” said a third.

And that’s the amazing thing, at some point this stopped being about the concerts — not only for the residents, but the students too.

“It became more like a family than a job,” said Plank. “Yeah, they’re all my grandparents.”

And that’s the amazing thing, at some point this stopped being about the concerts — not only for the residents, but the students too.

“It became more like a family than a job,” said Plank. “Yeah, they’re all my grandparents.”

She knows they didn’t set the program up for her benefit.

” Yet, I think I get the better end of the deal, I really do,” said Plank.

In America, we segregate ourselves as much by the date on our driver’s license as the color of our skin. But by reaching across the ages, the residents of Judson Manor have discovered something about people on the opposite end of the timeline — that they’re worth the time.

Residents like it too.

“I think it’s a beautiful program. It should be done all over,” said one.

“Exactly right, exactly right,” said another.

My 93-year-old mom lives in an apartment in a scattered-site elderly apartment complex.  Because state law where she lives requires an apartment to be let to anyone regardless of age if it’s not filled within 3 months of vacancy, there are also families with kids living there and military personnel who opted for off-base housing. The families with children are in units that are separated from the units with adults only by an outdoor recreational area with 2 swimming pools (one heated; one unheated), barbeque/picnic areas and laundry buildings, as well as a community recreation building. It’s a wonderful setup for her; and by renting at market rates the 2nd floor units to military and others who are not yet at retirement age, it keeps the rental costs down for the seniors who, because of how the development originally was structured, rent at reduced rates.. ~ nixdeb | October 13, 2014

My Grandmother, Esther Fritz Nixon, enjoyed living at Judson Manor. The kindness and care was outstanding. She shared… via many poetry readings … her writings. Many of those poems were inspired by her life at Judson, friendships, family, life’s obstacles, growing old etc.Thank you for all the love, Judson Manor! ~ skeezix06 | October 11, 2014

I’ve always thought retirement villages were bad for the elderly. When you’re around young people you have to keep moving.  If old people are all you ever see it makes for a dull life.
~ flowergirl7 | October 11, 2014

By Steve Hartman | CBS News | © 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.


(Article includes video)

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