March 2, 2005
Second-graders at Las Sendas Elementary School in northeast Mesa study reading, writing and math. And they play violin.
All of them.
Starting last school year, every second- and thirdgrader at the Mesa Unified School District campus has studied violin three days a week in a program the school launched with tax credit donations and other financial assistance from the community.
"Check your bow holds, please," Las Sendas violin instructor Kyra McCarthy told one class of secondgraders last week. "Check your pinkies."
Then the music started. First in unison, then in rounds.
The children played from memory — without sheet music — using a method called Suzuki that emphasizes watching and listening before students engage in formal music study.
"It’s a different way for the kids to learn," second-grade teacher Jana Lucas said. "It’s hands-on, and it stimulates their minds."
Second-grader Chardyche Kott, 7, said she now practices at home on her own violin and wants to stick with the instrument her entire life.
"It sounds pretty," she said.
But Las Sendas principal Julia Kelly said her objective is not to turn every child into a career violinist.
"Once they are exposed to music, they tend to stick with it," Kelly said. "And it doesn’t matter to me in what form."
Kelly, who studied piano and voice in college, said music develops critical thinking and math skills, and is also fun.
Her teachers agree.
"You’re developing a whole group of kids who are excited about the arts," Las Sendas third-grade teacher Diane Wunderle said.
Her students have studied violin for nearly two years, and Wunderle said she has seen payoffs in other areas of academics.
"Academics is not segregated," she said. "It all comes together."
To illustrate, Wunderle pointed to an assignment her students had left on their desks while they shuffled off to recess. The students had drawn pictures on grid paper — an art assignment — and then calculated the area and perimeter of each shape — a math assignment.
The integrated approach to teaching the state’s academic standards has brought powerful results at Las Sendas, which led the district in 2004 on the Stanford 9 Achievement Test and Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards.
"We teach the state standards plus more," Kelly said.
She said the high test scores are part of her school’s identity — but so is the emphasis on music.
"A school is about more than teaching the state standards," Kelly said. "There is a personality at each school that is unique."