Each day, a chorus of “Hello! Hello!” starts a lesson for a group of 4-year-olds at Truman Early Childhood Education Center, a ritual designed to reinforce what students are learning in the classroom through fun songs, movements and music.
The music lessons are taught through Do-Re-ME!, a curriculum created by faculty at the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra and Conservatory of Music. The program integrates the arts with early learning standards taught in public school classrooms.
With a staff of three Do-Re-ME! teachers and three teacher assistants, the program reaches 500 4-year-olds at Truman, as well as preschool and kindergarten students at six schools in Acadia Parish and at Epiphany Day School in New Iberia. The classes are also taught at the conservatory.
The Do-Re-ME! program integrates the skills that young preschool and kindergarten students must master — from numbers, colors, sight words — to developing their fine motor skills that will help them in their development.
Earlier this week, Do-Re-ME! teacher Jessica Eyster and an assistant, Daniel Gale, led classes of Truman students through a series of songs.
The classic “Hickory, Dickory Dock” was refashioned to incorporate animals and colors students are learning about in their classes. On a wall, above each animal was a picture of a clock with the time the animal made its ascent. A piece of paper covered the designated time, and Eyster quizzed students on the hour that each animal made its arrival. She lifted the paper to reveal the arms of the clock.
Students then sang the song, making different hand motions for each different animal and reshaping their fingers to signal the correct time of the animal’s ascent. The motions and holding up their fingers to show the time are one of the exercises to help build students’ motor skills, Gale explained. The use of rhythm sticks also helps build their dexterity, Eyster added.
“Our teachers use the curriculum that Truman teachers are using. We’ll complement it to reinforce what they’re already learning,” said Rebecca Doucet, deputy director of the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra and Conservatory of Music.
Doucet said the program is making an impact on students’ learning. She cited a study the conservatory commissioned by the Picard Center that showed higher school readiness scores among Do-Re-ME! participants as compared to students at schools without the program.
The analysis compared students from Truman and the six Acadia Parish schools with students in other Acadia Parish schools that do not offer the Do-Re-ME! program.
Steven Dick, a Picard Center statistician who reviewed the data, said data for Lafayette Parish wasn’t readily available for the 2013-14 school year, which is why Lafayette schools weren’t part of the analysis.
Dick said more time will be needed to examine the extent of the program’s effectiveness.
“This is the first in a multi-year series of studies and it will become a little more clear as the other programs enter maturity, particularly of the multiple schools in Acadia parishes,” Dick said.
Truman students receive weekly lessons through the Do-Re-ME! program, though music is incorporated into their day in their classroom and in their physical education class, said Truman Principal Stephanie Francis.
The Do-Re-ME! program helps enhance what students are learning in the classroom, she said.
“It is not the sole variable that has made this school successful. It’s one piece of the pie,” Francis said. “We’re all working toward the same goal.”
The program was launched three years ago at Truman Early Childhood Education Center in Lafayette initially through a grant. The site was selected because it was the school system’s sole preschool-only campus and had no full-time music teacher.
The program has continued at the Lafayette preschool this school year, funded in part by the school system. The school system faced a rocky budget planning session for the current school year and a repeat of last year is expected as the School Board moves into budget planning mode again this spring.
Given the budget situation, it’s unclear if the program will continue next year because it’s likely the board will take a hard look at programs throughout the district, said Paget Guidry, the school system’s arts and music specialist.
“I would like to see some music program here at Truman,” Guidry said.
Other elementary schools in the district have music teachers and the district also has an arts-focused elementary school, J. Wallace James, she noted.
In total, the Do-Re-ME! program reaches 1,450 students. Future plans call for further expansion to more students through the development of a technology-based program.
“We are in the process of trademarking and copyrighting the curriculum,” Doucet said. “We have built an app and are in the process of integrating it into our system so the curriculum is available remotely to our teachers. We will then investigate next steps for wider distribution.”
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.