Amping Up Popular Music Education in New York

Little Kids Rock
Little Kids Rock

Berklee has joined forces with Little Kids Rock, a like-minded nonprofit, and the New York City Department of Education, to train certified music teachers to bring more popular music education to tens of thousands of NYC students in the next three years. New York’s Department of Education is America’s largest urban school system serving more than 1 million students.

The Amp Up NYC organization and program represents a unique initiative whereby partners work together to train 600 of the city’s 900-plus certified music educators to bring dynamic teaching, engaging online curricula, and popular instruments such as keyboards, guitars, and drums to the city’s public schools. By the end of this three-year pilot program, more than 60,000 city school students will have greater access to music at school and at home.

Amp Up NYC is an extension of Berklee’s premier educational outreach initiative: Berklee City Music. A music-based youth development program, Berklee City Music serves more than 28,000 students in 41 North American cities. Through the Amp Up NYC partnership, Berklee provides New York City students and teachers free access to PULSE (Pre-University Online Learning Experience) curriculum, with thousands of hours of instructional content, from music fundamentals to music theory to ear training. Berklee also provides online teacher training courses on PULSE, and participates in frequent teacher training events in New York City.

Little Kids Rock (LKR), a New Jersey-based nonprofit partner with Amp Up NYC, provides its original curriculum and online resource, the Hang, to teach educators and students how to play keyboard, bass, guitar, and other instruments, as well as instruction in basic songwriting and composition. In addition, LKR delivers hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of instruments from manufacturers to the city’s schools.

The partnership is unique given the New York City Department of Education’s decision to write Amp UP NYC and “modern band” teaching and materials into its curriculum. And the city is investing substantially in the partnership. A story in the July 2014 issue of Inside Philanthropy stated, “If the news [of Amp Up NYC] sounds, well, historic, that’s because it is. The $10 million initiative. . . is the largest single private investment in a city’s public school music education in the history of the United States.” Amp Up NYC will contribute $4.5 million toward the initiative, and the New York City schools will contribute the rest.

In November 2014, 60 additional educators were trained in Manhattan, bringing the total number of teachers and schools affected to more than 200, serving more than 10,000 students since Amp Up NYC’s kickoff event in March 2014. To date, 15 Amp Up NYC out-of-school-time programs have also been launched. These numbers will grow dramatically over the course of the current school year and the effects on schools and students are already evident in local communities. At the most recent training event, New York City teachers shared their excitement, noting that not only are students excited to receive general training, but they are bringing their energy and passion for music creation home to their families as well.

Berklee’s vision for this educational model extends into the future. Amp Up NYC is already transforming teaching and improving students’ lives. Continued success may bring opportunities for Amp Up outreaches in other school systems across the United States. To learn more about Amp Up NYC and BCM, visit berklee.edu/city-music. To contribute to the program, send an e-mail to community@berkleecitymusicnetwork.org.

Lee Whitmore, Ed.D. is vice president for Education Outreach and Social Entrepreneurship at Berklee