The Community Music School of Springfield recently received $50,000 from the state of Massachusetts to support their Adaptive Music Program. The program, a partnership with Springfield Public Schools, serves over 500 students in 14 schools.  

By connecting music with special education, the Adaptive Music Program enhances and unlocks the learning potential for differently abled students. It also offers professional development training for educators.  

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Eileen McCaffery, the Executive Director of the Community Music School of Springfield, and Mary Kay Brown, Director of Partnerships at John J. Duggan Academy in Springfield, to hear how these funds will make an impact in the program. 


Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: The Community Music School of Springfield recently received a state budget allocation of $50,000 for their Adaptive Music Program, a partnership with the Springfield Public Schools.

The program, which serves over five hundred students in 14 schools, connects music and special education to enhance and unlock the learning potential for differently-abled students, as well as offer professional development training for educators.

I spoke with Eileen McCaffrey, the executive director of the Community Music School of Springfield, as well as Mary Kay Brown, director of partnerships at John J. Duggan Academy in Springfield, to hear how these funds will make an impact in the program.

Eileen McCaffery, Community Music School of Springfield: About nine years ago, we embarked on a project called the Sonido Musica Program, which was a partnership that was developed directly with the Springfield Public Schools and the Community Music School to support music education. We are happy to say that we have strings programs and band programs that support the amazing work happening in the Springfield Public Schools, and now we’ve expanded it to Holyoke.

In that regard, after working in these partnerships, what we realized was that the special ed students who were participating in our programs were really benefiting from this beautiful art form. And so, we decided to do a deeper dive.

And fortunately, we had in our — among our faculty, not just music specialists, but also special ed folks. And so, we developed a capacity, and we went to a couple of our partner programs, such as Duggan Academy and Mary Kay Brown, and asked if we could pioneer this new project called the Adaptive Music Program.

We’re now in 14 schools in both Springfield and Holyoke. And it’s just been an amazing journey of really taking our amazing special ed students and giving them an opportunity to have a music program tailored, tailored specifically to their needs.

Mary Kay Brown, John J. Duggan Academy: What was so wonderful about it is how collaborative it was. The music teachers in the district may not necessarily have the specific skills that the AMP music program provides, so the music teacher and the schools, together with the paraprofessionals and the teachers, all come together as a unit to help support the instruction for our young people.

And, to see their eyes light up when the instructor comes into the classroom, they know what to expect. They know they’re going to be singing. They know they’re going to be playing instruments. They know they’re going to be singing about the curriculum, because the instructor will figure out what it is that they’re doing curriculurly in the classroom and turn it into a song that they can then sing through the day when the instructor has moved on to another classroom.

And also, how going remote, we didn’t miss a beat. And what was beautiful about it was, not only did you have the student in front of you, but you had the whole family, because the parents were there sitting side-by-side with their children to make sure they were accessing the Zoom, accessing the curriculum. And now, they got to sing along with Andy.

Zydalis Bauer: Let’s talk about that a little bit, because I remember when all the students had to go remote in all these districts. I really was thinking about all the students in special education not receiving that hands-on time that they had with instructors and programs.

How did you manage to stay engaged with these special education students through this program?

Eileen McCaffery: We’re fortunate to be part of a national network and we — as we talked to folks across the country, we had a pretty unusual experience that we were able to, as Mary Kay said, not miss a beat.

What we didn’t realize was that across the country, most of the partnership programs were not able to continue, and that had significant consequences. I think it is because of the depth of the partnership. I think it’s because we love our kids collectively. We all love our kids so much and knew, as you mentioned, how essential it was for us to find ways to connect.

And also just the beautiful power of music that there’s something, you know, they did studies that while people were home, they actually engaged in the arts, all of our families, in their own sort of non structured way. But we all found, I don’t know if your family found that, but you know, when you were home, you really got clear on what the essential ingredients of joy looked like, even while we were all locked down.

Zydalis Bauer: Absolutely. And so, speaking to that, and that joy of music, and I witnessed the magic in that joy when I visited Community Music School in Springfield several years ago for Sonido Musica. So, it’s just so nice to hear that you all are receiving this funding.

With this funding, what impact will that make on this program?

Eileen McCaffery: So, what we’ve used the money for — and what we will continue to use the money for — is not only the classroom work that we talked about, that Mary Kay is referring to, but we found that creating professional development opportunities, that question you asked about pivoting remotely, that was part of what we were able to use our funding for, was to have a really nice — have beautiful camera work provided by Focus Springfield and some of the folks from Legacy Sounds.

But we’re really trying to use the money to increase our own skill-building. Also, frankly, we’re doing a lot of important work around creating an equity framework for culturally and historically responsive pedagogy. As well as, frankly, just paying our teaching artists to be able to go and do more sites, and provide more services on the ground.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, Mary Kay, you are on the inside of all this magic happening in this program. Talk to me about what a class looks like in the Adaptive Music Program.

And what have been some of your favorite moments and experiences that you have witnessed, or teachers have shared with you?

Mary Kay Brown: I asked the teachers to provide me with some testimonials, and they they jumped on it because they feel that the AMP music program really supports what they’re doing in the classroom. I’m just going to read a little bit from one of the testimonials, because I want to make sure I capture it.

“Our adaptive music teacher brings with her engaging activities that incorporate movement rhythm, being conscious of our body and space, which complements elements of teaching that go on in the classroom, such as math, counting beats, recognizing patterns in music, or social skills, being aware of our body in space as we move through the room.”

These are all skills that our special ED teachers, specifically the autistic classroom teachers, work on with the students every single day, and this is what AMP brings to the classroom.

And there are lots of students who are very, very musical, and the Adaptive Music teacher will pick those students and help them to sort of lead the classroom in song and activities, because they know that those particular students really have a real, real love and interest in music.

Zydalis Bauer: As you mentioned, Eileen, you serve over five hundred students in 14 different schools, which is amazing.

What are the hopes for the future of this program?

Eileen McCaffery: This is a program that has really, the scale of it could be replicated much more broadly. We’re fortunate we use the funding from the STARS grants from the Mass Cultural Council to support this. But honestly, with additional funding, we could offer this far more broadly into the schools.

And some of the most incredible breakthroughs have come — language breakthroughs, young people who, with autism, who are not speaking but could sing, you know? Words are coming. It just makes us all — just gives us so much hope. And our hope is that we continue to do the work that the work becomes even deeper and more embedded in these beautiful partnerships with our schools like Mary Kay, and that we continue to get the type of funding support that allows us to do this work again and again and again.

And to be a national model so that other states look and say, “Boy, what’s happening here in Springfield? We could do this as well.”

And if we can make it accessible in terms of how we’re doing this, that would also be a great hope. And joy for us, is to see this flourishing across the country, not just in our own community.