Cumberland school makes arts education a priority

Posted February 25, 2010 8:16 a.m. EST
Updated February 25, 2010 8:47 a.m. EST

— Arts education is a priority at Eastover-Central Elementary School of the Arts in Cumberland County. Students as young as pre-kindergartners learn to play the violin.

Once-a-week violin class is mandatory from kindergarten through second grade. Cumberland County schools provide the instruments.

Teachers said learning how to play a musical instrument teaches students mental and physical skills at a crucial development phase.

"It improves their creativity, their higher thinking skills," violin teacher Kelly Illescas said. "They develop amazing fine motor skills."

Once children enter third grade, they can chose whether to take violin classes twice a week. About a third chose to do so, and many were enthusiastic about their lessons.

"Every Tuesday and Thursday, I'm like, 'Mom, go get my violin, because I got to go to violin class,'" fifth-grader Joseph Autry said.

Students also learn about music theory, history and appreciation.

Children can start learning to play the violin as early as pre-kindergarten. They don't get a real violin, though. Instead, they use fake box violins for the first two months. Then they move onto baby violins.

"They will occasionally drop them, and I have had them break," Illescas said.

At the end of the school year, all the violin students play in a recital for their families and peers.

Illescas said that although most students won't become great musicians, the early training enhances their education.

"They really do love it overall," she said.