Con Students Fill Music-Education Gap

Adriana Teitelbaum

Spearheaded by double-degree junior Ben Steger and double-degree senior Tim Fenton, the Music Mentors Program will amp up its operation this semester. Represented by several Oberlin Conservatory students, the program offers students the opportunity to help teach music at Langston Middle School. Though in the past the program has boasted only a handful of participants helping out at the school a few mornings per week, Steger and Fenton are hoping to expand participation throughout the academic year.

Steger hopes to achieve a more extensive engagement with the middle school this semester, offering private lessons and small group workshops in addition to lending support to school music teachers. A larger body of Conservatory volunteers will allow the program to offer more afternoon classes, with the possible addition of groups such as jazz bands and brass or string quartets, depending on student interest.

According to Steger, one of the main goals of the Music Mentor Program is to compensate for the budget cuts set forth in recent years by the Ohio School Board that have strained public education throughout the state, particularly school arts programs.

“A law in Ohio basically forces schools to decide which ‘extra’ workers to spend funds [on],” Steger told the Review. Ever since the Ohio Administrative Code was changed under Governor John Kasich to allow schools to employ fewer noncore curriculum staff members, school districts are frequently forced to choose, for example, between music teachers and nurses to keep up in the face of increasingly restrictive budget cuts.

“Governor Kasich, along with many other politicians, are drastically cutting funding for public school music education,” Steger said.

These changes have restricted flexibility in programs and classrooms all over the state. At Langston Middle School, cuts have stilted access to music education opportunities, especially to students from lower income families who may not have access to instruments and lessons outside of school.

“The goal of the Music Mentors Program is to help public schools in Oberlin negate some of these effects by helping with music classes … and running after school programs for students to expand their musical education,” Steger said. Conservatory students involved in mentoring hope to reinvigorate the ailing program and lend more individual attention than even the most dedicated teacher would be able to give in larger classroom situations.

Though conceived mainly to alleviate pressure on Langston Middle School’s dwindling population of music teachers, the Music Mentors Program may offer benefits far beyond musical skill and experience.

A study by North Carolina State University found that students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have access to any type of mentor during their youth are twice as likely to pursue higher education. Psychology Today reported similar findings.

“Nonparent mentors … [are] highly instrumental in how these teens learned to believe in themselves and tackle challenging goals.”

Mentorship is beneficial not only to the students and staff members of Langston Middle School, but also to the Oberlin Conservatory students who volunteer, allowing them to gain valuable teaching experience they can apply later in their careers.

Steger and Fenton are always looking to expand the program’s offerings and reach, eagerly taking on new volunteers in their effort to reassert the importance of music in the face of a legislative attitude toward education increasingly concerned with teaching to the test.