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MusicFirst- Problem solving for Underserved and Under-Resourced Schools

September 30, 2021

The MusicFirst Classroom is a Music Learning Management System (LMS) that integrates seamlessly into other learning management systems and enables quick, easy and effective use by teachers and students alike. The Platform enables various software applications, such as PracticeFirst, Sight Reading Factory, Auralia, Soundtrap for Education, Noteflight Learn, Musition, and more, to come together under one umbrella to enable easy assignment and grading of tasks. In addition, the content library allows teachers to use pre-made curricula in a wide variety of subjects, complete with tasks and assignments, that are easily editable for their unique usage. 

The MusicFirst Classroom tools are particularly helpful for teachers in underserved and under-resourced schools, promoting excellence in music education in the face of unique challenges.

MusicFirst interviewed several teachers and administrators from the Fort Worth, Texas Independent School District (ISD) for their thoughts on the use of the MusicFirst Classroom tools. Fort Worth ISD is an urban district in which 85% of the student population is economically disadvantaged.

Here are some examples of how the MusicFirst Classroom improved efficiency, effectiveness, and ease-of-use for students, teachers, and administrators alike from successful practioners in an underserved, under-resourced community. 

1. While use of the MusicFirst Classroom was important to many during the pandemic, its use in post-pandemic education is a silver-lining in the cloud that challenged music education last year. What we were forced to learn will continue to make our music education programs thrive and grow. 

"In an in-service meeting last week, one of our directors spent a great deal of time discussing how he was using the MusicFirst and PracticeFirst software for his music group. His explanation was sort of an epiphany for me. I thought that we would use MusicFirst to get us through virtual learning in the panedmic and it never occurred to me that we could continue to use it, post-pandemic. Listening to this teacher explain how he was integrating all of his sheet music into MusicFirst and PracticeFirst and how it was helping his students now, despite being in fully in-person learning, provided confirmation to me and others that we are firmly committed to using MusicFirst in the future. We added a new level of normalcy in our school last year that will continue- the use of the MusicFirst classroom." Stacey Dunn, Administrator. 

2. Many students in underserved and under-resourced schools are at a disadvantage due to limited resources. The MusicFirst classroom helps "level the playing field", providing access to individualized music resources for students across economic strata.

"MusicFirst/PracticeFirst gives students instant feedback despite the fact that most of our kids can't afford to have a private teacher. Kids in orchestra in urban settings are at a disadvantage because the orchestra culture in most areas is to start playing when they are five or six years old. Our kids don't start until 6th grade. The sooner we can get these resources to them, the quicker they will get caught up to their peers and feel like they belong. We use Sight Reading Factory to improve their reading abilities and Auralia for their ear training in music theory classes. It's pretty ridiculous how much better our program has gotten in the three years our school has existed thanks to these MusicFirst products." Hunter Lewis, Teacher

"At Paschal High School, we are at approximately 50% free and reduced lunch. The other half of the school is fairly affluent, so we often call this the "tale of two schools". MusicFirst helped with our unique demographic by leveling the playing field between the two types of students in our classroom. Students with financial disadvantages were able to get immediate feedback, continue to make good sounds and keep up with the rest of the program. MusicFirst enabled a structure and normalcy and it enabled them to stay engaged with our program, despite situations happening at home. The individual assessment of tuning, note durations, etc. in PracticeFirst and the ability to record and hear themselves play was invaluable in the continuation of their performance during the pandemic and beyond." Christine Glass, Teacher  

3. The MusicFirst Classroom grading tools help organize assignments and assessments in a single location, and enables a consistent means of communication between teacher and students, saving precious time. MusicFirst's integration of software, scheduling, gradebook, and communication tools into school Learning Management Systems is unique in the music education sphere.

"Many of my Title I students had limited resources to send me assignments and they were trying to send them to me in so many different formats and so many different social media platforms (email, text, school website, etc.). The MusicFIrst Classroom gradebook was a saving grace for me, as we were able to train them to submit via MusicFirst- this saved me lots of time." Debbie O'Brien, Teacher

"Similar to Debbie, the MusicFirst Classroom gradebook hlped simplify the process of grading and collecting assignments and made my life easier as well. We use Google Classroom in our school, and the integration with the MusicFirst gradebook truly simlified the process for [students] to access their assignments easily and then submit them to me." Christine Glass, Teacher

4. Access to many different types of software in the MusicFirst Classroom enviroment can provide variety in your music ensemble activity to keep students interested and motivated.

"Last year there was so much technology in use that many students just shut down. We began the year with PracticeFirst and Sight Reading Factory. Later we transitioned to using Soundtrap for Education which really woke them up- they were so excited for the creative aspects of this program. They were able to create their own songs and they really, really, really loved that. We transitioned back to PracticeFIrst and Sight Reading Factory, and I look forward to continuing to move our program forward with these applications, particularly now that the pandemic is winding down." Debbie O'Brien, Teacher

5.If we can have our students know how to read and play the notes and rhythms prior to our in-person rehearsals, our job as teachers moves to other fundamentals such as playing with better intonation, expression, and ensemble techniques like blend and balance. 

"During the pandemic, PracticeFirst helped all of our students learn notes and rhythms at home, so that when they were with us in person, with limited time, we could help them with fundamentals and musicality. The nuts and bolts were out of the way. Our program did not take a step back during the pandemic, they took a step forward- we will play a concert next fall that is college-level literature, which we could not have done prior to the pademic. MusicFirst really pushed our"stars" and the rest of program followed. MusicFirst lit the fire and kept the fire lit all year." Hunter Lewis

6. ESSER III funding can be used to pay for the MusicFirst Classroom in addition to many other needs for your music program. Don't miss the opportunity!

"The Fort Worth ISD recevied $260 million in ESSER III funding with Instrumental Music receiving $1.5 million every year for the next three years. The Executive Director of Visual and Performing Arts negotiated with District Administration and was able to obtain the funds. We are using $1 million of the annual funds to finance new instruments for band and orchestra programs. In addition, we are using the funds to finance MusicFirst student subscriptions, rehiring teachers that were cut due to enrollments dropping, professional development for teacjers, summer enrichment courses and teacher training." Dick Clardy, Administrator

Teachers and administrators in the Fort Worth ISD use MusicFirst software successfully with Title I students, and their techers found the classroom and suite of available software extremely beneficial, particularly during the pandemic. They are a shining example of how MusicFirst Classroom enhances all you do with your program and students. A huge thank you to all of these fantastic teachers and administrators for the time necessary to share their experiences!

Dick Clardy is the Director of Instrumental Music for the Fort Worth Independent School Disitrict. Prior to his appointment to Fort Worth, Mr. Clardy spent twenty-seven years developing band and orchestra prorgrams in Texas. Bands under Mr. Clardy's direction have performed twice at the Midwest Clinic, the TMEA Convention-Clinic as the TMEA Class 5A Honor Band, and the Tournament of Roses Parade.

Stacey Dunn is an Administrative Music Specialist in the Fort Worth ISD. Stacey was the Director of Bands at Southwest High School in Fort Worth from 2000-2016. During his tenure at Sourthwest, the band was named Texas State Honor Band Finalist five times. In 2015, his ensemble performed at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic.

Christine Glass is the Associate Director of Orchestras at Paschal High School. Ms. Glass taught middle school orchestra for 21 years. She is a current member of Texas Music Educators Association and she has served on the board of Texas American String Teachers Association.

Hunter Lewis is currently the Director of Instrumental Music at the I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA in Fort Worth ISD. Before coming to IM Terrell, Mr. Lewis taught with many of the nation's premier music educators in Birdville, Mansfield and Broken Arrow School Districts.

Debbie O'Brien currently teaches Orchestra at Benbrook Middle High School in Fort Worth and has been teaching for 38 years. Debbie has also taugh band, been a private lesson teacher and played proffesionally in the Midland/Odessa area.

Scott Casagrande currently serves MusicFirst software and Music for All as a music education consultant. He also serves as administrator for the Dr. William P. Foster Project serving bands in under-served communities. He is a Past-President of the National Band Association, where he served on their Executive Board from 2012-2020.