Even though this is a question that I hope to answer throughout my fellowship studies and observations, a recent webinar funded through the Juneau School District and Association of Alaska School Boards started me on my path. The presenter of the webinar, Eric Jensen who is an author of many brain-based books, led a group of Alaskan teachers and administrators through the research referenced in his book Teaching with Poverty in Mind. With a new lens called El Sistema, I was able to connect many of its principles with Jensen’s findings, as well as with his recommendations for schools to help children in poverty.
Keep in mind this was a 6-hour webinar, so I will bullet the main points and recommend reading his book for more details. I hope it will help bridge what El Sistema has discovered intuitively with the scientific research valued by the US. Here it goes!
Jensen lists the reasons why kids from a low socio-economic status (SES) underperform:
- Chronic stressors
- Lack of positive role model
- Ineffective teaching
- Lack of comprehensive support
- Lack of quality relationships
- Little or no hope
The good news is that schools can reverse this process by targeting what Jensen calls SHARE or the Poverty Solution Model: Skill-building, Hope, Accommodations, Relationships and Enrichment. Here are a few specifics for each:
S = SKILL-BUILDING: develop memory, processing and sequencing skills through activities that incorporate student relevance, focused attention, built-in feedback, last 30-90 min/day and occur 3-6 times/week.
H = HOPE for the future through long-term effort, delayed gratification, and setting and getting goals;
A = ACCOMMODATIONS as needed with food, transportation, health care, activities, people and places;
R = RELATIONSHIPS are stable and positive, include mentors and positive role models; and
E = ENRICHMENT is daily, constant, challenging and meaningful with plenty of social interaction.
Jensen's SHARE model easily translates into El Sistema philosophy. Music-making naturally develops memory, sequencing and processing skills. In an El Sistema model, this highly motivating activity happens consistently with lots of social interaction, peer mentoring and hope-building through long-term effort. Accommodations, such as free transportation, instruments and music instruction, make this incredible world accessible to everyone. Jensen summarizes his presentation with these four powerful statements, which have El Sistema principles written all over them:
- Effort and Emotional IQ matters more than IQ in predicting achievement
- Schools need to be in the business of building hope and positive social interaction.
- High-performing schools excel at developing these three Primary Shapers or Drivers of Achievement::
- Relationships: intensity and reliability of specific attachments, including adult and peer mentors.
- Social Status: differentiating oneself from others and feeling special.
- Socialization: gaining the group’s acceptance and feeling part of a team
- “Arts support the development of critical neurobiological systems, which enhance improved attentional, social, cognitive, academic and cultural outcomes across ALL subject areas.”