Distinguished music program loses funding
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Distinguished music program loses funding

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Percussion teacher Larry Washington works with Englewood students in the Music Discovery Partnership. Photos by Kate White

Dorothy Roffman, the director of the Thurnauer School of Music at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, is clearly troubled as she discusses the loss of funding for the school’s Music Discovery Partnership.

According to Roffman, the initiative – which has brought musical enrichment to more than 1,000 students in the Englewood public schools over the past 10 years – has been extremely successful, attracting increasing numbers of students each year.

But now, she said, with the expiration this past June of funds provided by the government under the 21st-Century Community Learning Centers Grant program and the New Jersey Afterschool project, “I don’t know what will happen.”

Ironically, the Thurnauer School announced in August that it had been designated a Major Arts Institution by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State and had been awarded $18,000 by the National Endowment for the Arts’ Learning in the Arts Program for the very program now threatened.

Roffman said the MDP, which costs about $180,000 to run, has lost $65,000, the share formerly borne by the Englewood schools.

“We haven’t figured out how to come up with the amount we need,” she said.

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Clarinet teacher Sam Kaestner demonstrates how to hold the instrument.

Centered at Englewood’s Greico and McCloud elementary schools, the program serves nearly 250 students each year, “enriching existing public school music programs, providing access to a comprehensive music education for the most highly motivated children, and building meaningful partnerships with public school teachers and administrators.”

Most participants are in grades four to six, said Roffman, but the program also serves children in grades two and three. The children’s families pay only $250 a year, to cover the cost of renting instruments.

Roffman said the financial shortfall will primarily endanger MDP 1, which takes place at the schools themselves. The initiative teaches music fundamentals and vocabulary, and students may choose either to experiment with a variety of instruments or begin lessons for the violin. They also participate in a chorus.

“In MDP 2 we take the kids from the program and bring them to the music school on whatever scholarship they need,” said Roffman, adding that while the funds for that initiative remain, “they are not sufficient. We can only choose two or three students each year, when there are 10 to 15 students who would like to come up here.”

According to Roffman, the program benefits both the students and the community as a whole.

“A rewarding and extensive artistic experience can have an enormous impact on individuals, their families, and peers, including learning to focus, gaining self-confidence, and developing sensitivity to other points of view,” she said. In addition, “consistent exposure to the arts has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to stimulate long-term, systemic change in the way that the arts are perceived and valued by our society.”

Roffman said that the school is committed to “maintaining what we have at this point, but we are hoping to find people who really want to support this.”

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MDP violinists at the 2007 spring concert.

She said one of the strengths of the program is that over time “we have developed relationships with the administration and teachers in Englewood. We really felt that it was a partnership, with equal input. That’s best for the children.”

Roffman said she learned the extent of the shortfall only recently, and is trying to “spread the word that support is needed.” While the program formerly lasted 36 weeks, it has been reduced to 30 “to buy a little more time.”

“It will be very difficult,” she said, noting that the school must now offer a “modified, compromised program.”

She said she is most worried about the large group of violin students who have been participating in the program “and are committed and are doing well. They should not suddenly be left without the ability to continue.” She added that the program is trying to keep 15 of the 40 young violinists.

“There are some wonderful children in that program,” she said. “We are concerned about the children who discovered an interest [in music] and want to make sure they can continue to learn.”

Roffman explained that it was particularly important to offer musical education at the schools themselves because while the Thurnauer School would welcome many of the children to study there, “for many of the families, there’s a logistical problem of getting them here when the parents are working. To be able to have a program right at the school is very, very precious.”

“We haven’t made a decision yet on how to compromise,” she said. “Basically, we don’t want to. Every little bit of help we can get will make a difference.”

For further information about the Thurnauer School or the Music Discovery Partnership, call the school, (201) 408-1465, or e-mail thurnauer@jccotp.org.

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