The Erie Art Museum recently finished the final year of a three-year project funded by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Service. Year One and Two provided professional development at every site of Erie County’s three largest child care providers, Early Connections, the Y of Greater Erie, and GECAC Head Start. All childcare professionals learned how to fully integrate song into their curriculum and why singing is vital to children’s development. Each classroom learned three to five songs to use throughout the day. These songs were chosen from a repertoire of over 50 songs from over 10 different languages collected in Erie from the refugee community. Recent OSNO graduates acted as song coaches, and visited each classroom 5-6 times to assist them in learning and using the songs. Year Two and Three provided additional training and support for every classroom to create a short music video that documents how the songs are being used in their classroom. In the fall of 2016 we will celebrate a national release of a compilation CD that features all of the OSNO repertoire collected from Erie’s New Americans.
The project directly address the fact that one in four Erie City residents—and almost one in six Erie County residents live in poverty which is well above state and national averages. Children suffer disproportionately; approximately 25% of those living in poverty in Erie County are under the age of 18. This has a detrimental overall impact on the community’s quality of life and economic growth, and on children’s chances of future success. Children growing up in poverty are often not prepared to start school compared to their more affluent peers. This project will reach 409 staff the three partnering childcare agencies, the 1800 children and infants they serve, and all the children’s parents.
The outcomes of this project are to improve the lives of Erie’s young children by making their environment musically rich. This builds children’s social, cognitive and motor skills and allows them to start kindergarten at the same level as their more affluent peers. Benefits also accrue to the early childhood teachers and parents as they learn to use music effectively. Finally, this project assists refugee women in leveraging their traditional knowledge to gain employment.
Putting traditional songs to work has put women to work, and the benefit ripples out to touch American teachers and their young students. Music makes for strong cultures, strong education, and strong economic growth!
This project is gratifying on so many levels. All the participating women remarked that up until this project they had virtually stopped singing their native songs. They were living American lives where, due to school and work schedules, televisions and video games, they had very little direct contact with their children. This project helped them spend more time interacting with their own children as they taught them the songs they learned from the other women. They also made several poignant and heartfelt comments to our child development trainer that the classes had immediately improved the peace of their own households. These women were entirely capable of raising children in their native countries, but felt at a loss to parent their increasingly Americanized offspring. Their experience of childhood was to be respectful and quiet around adults and not to question authority. American children, in contrast, are allowed to be strong willed, ask bold questions, and complain. The training gave the women concrete skills to redirect their own children, and to see their behavior not as bad, but different and typical of the American way children become self-reliant and discover their own identity.
The songs are truly a treasure to anyone who works with young children. There is a reason that they have been passed down generation after generation. They are catchy, encourage physical coordination, strengthen improvisation skills, teach co-operation, and bring real celebration and joy to any classroom.
It is wonderful to see these immigrant women valued as a resource, and that properly leveraging their indigenous knowledge has turned them into marketable employees. Those working in child cares have blossomed. They have more confidence, and clearly love their jobs. One supervisor who hired several refugee women was effusive about what they brought to her center. She was humbled by their gratitude and constantly amazed at how much patience they had with the children. She related that one worker discovered that a particular traditional lullaby was the only thing that would calm a sick baby. She sang that song for four hours straight, something that an American would never have had the stamina for. Old Songs New Opportunities is putting diversity to work, making the lives of Erie’s New Americans more stable, preserving threatened culture, and bringing joy to thousands of Erie children.
The project director, Kelly Armor, is seeking partners in other cities who would like to pilot Old Songs New Opportunities in their community.
For more information about OSNO contact Kelly Armor