Prairie Vista Middle School

Tapping into Students’ Inner Strengths


Prairie Vista Middle School invests in the future, one fine arts program at a time. As other districts and states cut funding for the arts, two schools in Hawthorne, California, are making a strong statement about what puts kids on the road to college. Helen Morgan, superintendent of the K-8 Hawthorne School District, believes tapping into students’ inner strengths earlier in their education will put more students on a path to higher education.

Prairie Vista’s new music program, funded in part with donations by the Hawthorne School District Education Foundation and the Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce, is opening up musical opportunity for 6th-8th graders. Students rotate each trimester into Dr. Lorenzo Sanchez’s new Roland F-110 piano lab, learning to read and write music, rhythm, and music history.

Customized by Roland Corporation for Prairie Vista, young players on the F-110’s 88-key Progressive Hammer Action piano experience the authentic feel of an acoustic grand. Students can explore up to 306 tones besides the piano, including eight drum sets and sound effects. As students grow and learn, they can access the F-110’s easy Transpose feature or Record and Save up to three tracks on the built-in Recorder.

Dr. Sanchez can isolate each player, listen to small groups, or hear the whole class on the Roland GLC-1 music conferencing system. This all-in-one communication solution is perfect for group piano teaching and music ensemble instruction. Because the GLC-1 doesn’t rely on external computer hardware or software, Prairie Vista’s music classes are simple to manage and fun for students. It’s both intuitive and easy-to-use.
Students passing their required classes enter specialized courses--in this case music--as an elective choice that gets them excited about coming to school. The “Way Cool” Keyboarding curriculum taught in the lab is written specifically for teens, designed to create a successful and motivating first experience at the piano. Written by Debra Perez and Will Baily, this method has students reading music, playing off the page, experiencing ensemble play and enjoying a variety of music styles.

The program is supplemented with a music accompaniment CD that plays along with the students. “The kids feel as if they are part of a band or an orchestra while they are learning basic keyboard concepts,” Dr. Sanchez says. He feels this makes their learning unique and that accompaniments “keep the students interested, help them develop a strong sense of rhythm, and help make playing fun right away.”

Giving students an opportunity to be successful in specialized courses, with technology as the center, is raising student interest and test scores. Compared to districts with similar demographics, Prairie Vista scores in the top 10 percent of similar schools statewide. Morgan points out, however, that “A test doesn’t measure your ability to build a robot or play a musical instrument....we just have to keep pushing ourselves.” And, Morgan adds, educators need to keep looking for opportunities for students to be successful. Prairie Vista is off to a great start!

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