Music Therapy

Partnership Brings Music Therapy to Campus
Posted on 03/28/2024

It’s not uncommon to hear the clatter and clamor of musical instruments in a classroom at MOBOCES. For years, music teacher Jack Chesebro has brought the magic of music to his students through weekly classes, while cultivating an infectious enthusiasm for the subject.

That enthusiasm led MOBOCES leadership to search for opportunities to take music programming to the next level. What they found was a new Music Therapy partnership with the KEYS program that has struck a chord with K-7 staff and students alike. Defined simply, Music Therapy is the use of music in a therapeutic context to address the physical, emotional, social, or cognitive needs of an individual or group. It has some key differences from a typical music class or lesson.

“A music lesson is performance-based, where you have a goal to learn how to play the piano, or read music, or learn different skills,” KEYS Program director Colleen Bennett said. “Music Therapy is totally different. It helps kids learn different coping skills and learn to use music as a re-direction tool where we can meet them where they’re at…. It’s treating that heart, soul, and mind of a child.”

At MOBOCES, Music Therapist Blake Propst comes to classrooms housing kindergarten through 7th grade students on a bi-weekly basis to perform interactive songs that engage students and lift spirits. During their 30 minute classroom sessions, students learn life lessons and improve on their social and emotional well-being through song. Propst enjoys the experience as much as the students do, and the unique challenges and objectives that each day brings.

“Music Therapy is a way for us to use music as a vehicle to achieve non-music goals,” Propst said. “I’ve always strived to help bring happiness, joy and peace into everything that I do, and music is a great avenue to do that. Through this program I get to meet students that can really benefit from those things.”

music therapyPropst’s services are provided to MOBOCES through a special arrangement with KEYS. Founded in 1993, the KEYS Program is a nonprofit located in Sherrill that uses its platform to provide uplifting music and racing-based experiences to children impacted by life-threatening illness and their families. They recently expanded their outreach to include therapy services to community clients, and that piqued the interest of Director of Secondary Programs James Weaver and Director of Elementary Programs Dr. Amanda Hopkins.

“A few years ago,  we were looking at the data on how our elementary kids were progressing academically and were looking for another support that could be added to help them engage in learning,” Weaver said. “After reaching out to KEYS, we recognized there could be an opportunity for our elementary kids to experience music therapy.”

The program was introduced in late 2021 as a remote offering through videoconferencing, with on-site support from Chesebro. It evolved to an in-person therapy arrangement the following year, and it has continued ever since. The relationship has been quite a complement to the work Chesebro does in class.

“Adding Music Therapy in our classrooms has been such an important part of our whole-child, student-centered philosophy here at Madison-Oneida BOCES,” Chesebro said. “It supplements the work I do on the music education side because the therapists touch on a different skill set. They’re focused on allowing students to be more in touch with their emotions through performance of different songs and activities. It also gives the students a chance to interact with a musician other than myself and see someone else that enjoys making music. We want to lift our students to a place of wellness and joy.”

playing keyboardAs the impact of Music Therapy has grown on campus, so has the demand from teachers and administrators who have observed an improved atmosphere in the classroom.

“Blake does a great job of engaging every single student he comes across, and does it across a very diverse array of classrooms,” Elementary Principal William Mecum said. “I’ve seen Music Therapy in action and it’s really cool. He’s great at collaborating with the teachers, and the teachers are constantly asking for more time with the Keys Program and with Blake. We’re really thankful for this partnership.”

The next time you hear music in the Tilden Hill Triplexus, listen closely. You won’t want to miss the sound of a life-changing experience.