Students at Penn Take the Sound of Music to Lea Elementary

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | | 215-898-4820May 2, 2014

The University of Pennsylvania’s connection to the Henry C. Lea Elementary School is bringing music to the students’ ears there, morning, noon and night.

With the help of Molly McGlone, assistant dean for advising Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences, and others at the University, students at Lea enjoy a robust music program.

After-school programs in band and orchestra are offered thanks to relationships with Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships and grants from the Provost’s Interdisciplinary Arts Fund, the William Penn Foundation and Settlement Music School.

McGlone’s connection is through the college freshman seminars integrating music and urban studies, which she teaches, including an academically based community service course, “Music in Urban Spaces,” which started in 2011.

As a part of the class, a group of Penn undergraduates go to Lea three days a week to assist in its music classrooms.

On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays this semester, Penn students are serving as music mentors, supporting the teachers and running tutoring sessions that happen while the Lea students rotate through their sectional music lessons.

The music teachers get the support they need to focus on teaching because the volunteers help with students who might be distracted. All the while, Penn students are building relationships with Lea students and encouraging them to continue their journey in learning about music.

Some of the undergraduates are only enrolled in the course, some are work-study students from the Netter Center and some are part of a year-long residential program in Fisher-Hassenfeld College House, called “Music and Social Change” that McGlone designed in concert with the spring semester class.

The “Music and Social Change” residential program explores how people use music in their everyday lives to develop who they are, as well as their own social and economic positions. In addition to volunteering in nearby classrooms, it involves attending musical performances, investigating how music is used to construct culture and examining music’s value, whether it’s popular, classical or transnational.

“I was inspired by the community,” says McGlone, who came to Penn in 2010. “I wanted to help support music programs and to give Penn students the chance to share their talents, while learning about the important issues of race, class, gender and education in West Philadelphia.”

This embodies the spirit of local engagement principles set forth by President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact 2020.

McGlone earned a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she wrote about experimental musical spaces in New York City during the late 1960s. Her research and teaching interests incorporate urban geography, the sociology of music, music in everyday life and music as a force for social justice. 

“I love learning from students and challenging them to understand how social systems contribute to oppression, how identity formation occurs and how music and culture play a vital role in the way we relate to social systems,” McGlone says. “I hope this program motivates students to think about how they can give back in the future and how to make the most of their time here at Penn.”

The students from Penn gain a lot from these activities, too.

Nova Fallen, a freshman computer engineering major from Baltimore, is one of the students enrolled in the class. She says the seminar has allowed her form bonds with the students at Lea, and it has been rewarding to see the children improving. But, just as important, the class has given her a way to engage with the community and feel more at home in Philadelphia.

“It has expanded my views beyond my major, giving me a wider perspective,” Fallen says. “Our course discussions, as well as my experiences at Lea, made me think more deeply about how we view class and urban areas and how we can challenge stereotypes.”

McGlone says she applauds programs that emphasize engaged student learning, strong community connections and social responsibility.

“My goal is to work with students to engage deeply with the world around them, challenge their assumptions and to work towards giving back to the communities in which they live,” she says.