For Jessica Baron Turner, there are few better tools for teaching in the classroom than the guitar.
"We're like a blood transfusion," says the director of Guitars in the Classroom (GITC), a nonprofit organization in Santa Cruz, California, aimed at actively encouraging teachers to work the guitar into classroom instruction. "We feed the souls of teachers, who then feed the souls of children."
Through her Why Music Matters campaign, Turner hopes to get nearly a thousand instruments into the hands of educators. Turner notes that guitars are portable and inexpensive and have immense cred with music-obsessed kids.
In addition, many educators believe that including music in the curriculum enhances the absorption of academic material such as math, as well as increases social skills. The universal language of music also quickly engages academically struggling learners as well as students in English as a Second Language programs.
Too often, however, music programs are the first to be cut when school budgets shrink. The GITC program circumvents the red pen by operating independently of school districts with sponsors (such as American Music and Sound and the International Music Products Association) that provide teachers with guitars. Instructional workshops, offered at GITC's program-coordination centers (ten in California and nineteen others spread throughout the country), bring teachers to the point where they can learn simple songs and integrate them into classroom studies and activities. This fall, participants can also earn professional-development units for the workshop by registering online through California State University, East Bay, in Hayward.
"Teachers develop the basic skills in creating live music, and then mold the music to the classroom," says Turner, author of a series of books about teaching children guitar. But, she notes, "this project is less about the guitar and more about education. This is all about giving children a voice in this vast, fast-paced world."