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Guiding kids through a pandemic with music | COMMENTARY

Music can help kids express their feelings about the stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Music can help kids express their feelings about the stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. (clementetinin // Shutterstock)

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on American lives and taken its toll on many children causing worry, anxiety, fear and feelings of isolation from being out of the classroom and forced to learn from home.

Beyond the Natural Foundation (BTNF) has shown that music can help change all that. As a nonprofit that empowers at-risk youth by engaging them in music education and performance, BTNF is at the forefront of providing musical arts enrichment and music therapy for Baltimore City youth through songwriting, production and audio engineering.

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The simple and enjoyable act of making music naturally fosters important emotional and social skills, such as self-regulation, self-confidence, leadership and socio-emotional intelligence. Music helps the body and mind work together and ignites all areas of child development for school readiness. Creating music helps children build motor skills while allowing them to practice self-expression.

BTNF brings music education directly to youth in after-school programs, foster care facilities, group homes, juvenile detention centers, mental health facilities, recreation centers and summer camps.

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When the pandemic hit and the world seemed to shut down, BTNF was left in a difficult position along with many Baltimore City families that lacked the resources to properly support a quality learning environment — leaving our youth needing more academic support and enrichment than ever before.

To meet the challenge, BTNF quickly adapted by launching an online music production platform to increase accessibility, and offering an in-person and virtual, tuition-free summer camp thanks to a grant from the Baltimore Summer Funding Collaborative and The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. This successful camp blended music and academic enrichment and was specifically for youth residing in Baltimore City whose parents or legal guardians had either been unemployed, furloughed or experienced a 50% reduction in work hours as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. To further promote equity and inclusion, BTNF has pivoted to provide program participants with a program tool kit for at-home use that includes a djembe drum, a 61-key Yamaha keyboard and an iPad.

Baltimore City youth are now able to consistently engage in a creative outlet for positive self-expression, receive academic support and participate in safe and responsible in-person activities — all while cultivating relationships with their peers. Program participants are able to process their feelings to better cope with the emotional impact of COVID-19 and the issues surrounding racial injustices that continue to plague our communities.

Music has always been able to express what words cannot. Statistics have remained consistent on the benefits of music arts enrichment engagement for children and youth, and even adults and the elderly. After surveying parents of youth that participated in summer camp 2020, BTNF received a 100% program satisfaction rate. Parents expressed that they have never observed their children appear this confident in expressing themselves. One parent shared, “I have never heard my children talk this much about any program that I have signed them up for … they are already talking about next year!”

Academically, BTNF minimized summer learning loss through progress-driven academic instruction in mathematics, reading and language arts that allowed 97% of campers to demonstrate academic progress.

So, what’s next? Although much uncertainty still lies ahead with this pandemic, BTNF remains committed to nurturing creativity through collaboration that builds community. Using a hybrid program modality, BTNF continues to expand on existing programming opportunities and build new ones.

Thanks to the generous support of the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund and Family League of Baltimore, we have launched after-school programs to develop students' leadership skills while they learn drumming, piano and songwriting and production. We will continue our “Strengthening the Village” program by offering music workshops for parents and children who are enrolled in our programs. Soon and very soon, our youth will have their own podcasting platform that will be used for amplifying their voice to use music in building the Being More Optimistic and Righteously Endowed (B.M.O.R.E.) campaign.

While a vaccine will hopefully get us beyond at least one aspect of our current reality, music is good medicine every day, until then and beyond.

Robert Levine III (rlevine@beyondthenatural.org) is the founding executive director of Beyond the Natural Foundation, Inc.

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