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roots of american music brings music education into low-income schools


When musician educators with Roots of American Music hold workshops in Cleveland public schools, it almost goes without saying that they are entering a place that doesn't have a full-time music teacher. Most cannot afford to hire full-time music staff, so they rely on part-time faculty and visiting artists.

The 14-year-old nonprofit organization educates more than 15,000 individuals throughout Northeast Ohio each year, teaching social studies, financial literacy and health education through music.

"We do a lot of songwriting about topics that are important to kids," says Kevin Richards, ROAM's Director. "They work with authentic artist-educators who not only can teach but are also bluesmen, Cajun zydeco artists or rappers."

Richards likens ROAM's educational approach to parents who disguise healthy foods to get their kids to eat them. In general, the artists have little trouble convincing kids to participate. "Kids don't realize they're getting an academic message at the same time as they're fooling around with traditional music."

ROAM's curriculum has changed as educational goals have evolved. When Richards created the organization, the focus was on teaching social studies. Today, such staple courses are supplemented with programs about financial literacy and health education (the latter is in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic).

One popular program called "On the Move" teaches students in the Central neighborhood of Cleveland about migration patterns throughout history. Students learn the song "Kansas City" and change the lyrics to fit their family's story.

Roots of American Music will host its 13th annual Benefit for Education on Saturday, October 6th at the Beachland Ballroom. Multi-award-winning Austin singer-songwriter Guy Forsythe is the headliner. The tickets are $125 for VIP access including dinner and preferred seating, or $15 for the concert only.


Source: Kevin Richards
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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