Effort boosts mathematics skills, discipline through piano lessons

A musical link between mathematics skills and overall student performance in the Letcher County school district has been selected for the Kentucky School Boards Association’s (KSBA) highest academic honor, the Public Education Achieves in Kentucky (PEAK) Award.

In the first 18 months of the piano program at its seven elementary schools, the district has seen an improvement in 3rd- and 4th-grade mathematics scores, discipline and attendance.

The district established the program in 2009 after its alumni society donated a Steinway grand piano for the high school.

The district’s education foundation, along with the alumni group, donated $52,830 for seven piano labs. The board of education agreed to fund the salary of the piano teacher, who travels to each elementary school once a week to work with all 3rd- and 4th-graders – nearly 500 students.

Discipline referrals have dropped since the beginning of the program, with only two in 2009-10, the first year of the program, compared with 10 the previous years. Sexton said guidance counselors have noted an overall change in attitude students have toward school.

And while a 2009-10 outbreak of H1N1 flu in Letcher County caused an overall drop in attendance of 1 percent from the previous year, students participating in the piano program saw a dip of only 0.5 percent.

KSBA established the PEAK Award in 1997 to focus statewide attention on outstanding public school efforts aimed specifically at enhancing student learning skills and, in doing so, to promote the positive impact of public elementary and secondary education in Kentucky.