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Music entertains, relaxes, and serves as the “universal language.” Research shows it also builds brain connections for spatial reasoning, language skills and verbal memory, leading to higher grade point averages, standardized test scores and graduation rates.

The Klamath Falls city schools celebrate the value of music year-round, especially in March – recognized as Music in Our Schools Month (MIOSM).

This year’s MIOSM theme is “Music Changes Lives,” and the National Association for Music Education says that music education’s impact is evident “in its social-emotional effect on young people and how they interact with the world around them.”

Gretchen Harwood, music teacher at Conger and Pelican Elementary schools, knows that music provides exposure to and appreciation for the world’s many cultures.

“Bit by the drumming bug” at a conference two years ago, Harwood used grant funds to buy West African and world music drums that are played regularly by her K-5 students.

“You don’t have to be a musician to appreciate music,” Harwood said. “I just want to get them to love music and expose them to different types. Where else will they hear music from Africa or the Caribbean?”

Harwood’s movement instruction likewise expands students’ worlds. “I say, ‘step this way, now move that way.’ My fourth- and fifth-grade boys don’t even realize they’re dancing, but suddenly they are doing a cultural folk dance.”

Technology allows other ways to explore music. Using Chromebook applications, for example, Harwood’s students make voice recordings to create the rhythmic percussion sounds of hip-hop beat-boxers.

“It is awesome to be in a district that supports music and keeps kids loving music,” said Harwood, noting the district’s band, choir and orchestra opportunities for all fifth-graders, as well as free after-school instruction through Orchestra Academy at Klamath Union High School and Academy Choir at Ponderosa Middle School.

This year, 30 fifth-grade students were bused to and from the six-week Academy Choir. They will perform four Academy songs at the district’s All-City Choral Festival March 10.

“When our kids perform with the middle and high school groups at all-city festivals,” said Harwood, “they think, ‘If I stick with this, I could end up sounding like that!’”

In addition to attending the All-City Choral Festival, Harwood says she will celebrate MIOSM by incorporating sign language into her classes and by continuing to keep music fun and relevant.

“If they’re singing their hearts out, I’m doing my job.”