When It Comes To Education, VH1 Wants To Turn STEM Into STEAM

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VH1 wants to add an “a” for art to the STEM education curriculum.

The network’s Save the Music Foundation hosted a town hall assembly to discuss how pivotal STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) Education is for the future of our children.

The panel discussion—which featured Grammy-nominated R&B star Kenny Lattimore, Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated actor and producer Masi Oka—took place in the auditorium at the Paley Center for Media in Midtown Manhattan. Alongside these artists, experts and educators like Dr. Gabriella Musacchia, Research Scholar at Stanford University and college professor; Kim Richards, Co-founder and Director of STEAMConnect; Miguel Centeno, Senior Director of Community Relations at Aetna and Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, SVP of Curriculum & Content at Sesame Workshop also joined them on stage.

Throughout the 18 years of its existence, VH1 Save The Music has provided kids across the country with $51 million dollars for new musical instruments, in 1,900 public schools among 231 districts, which have directly benefited a total of 2.3 million students. It’s a major feat, but it’s not enough. In an educational system where Common Core Standards—a set of high level expectations for mathematics and English-language arts—and standardized test reign supreme, arts education often gets lost in the shuffle.

“I think there is a mindset that things like music and art are add-ons, and are not integral parts of education,” said Paul Cothran, Executive Director of VH1 Save The Music. “It’s really important that school boards, superintendents hear the plea from parents and students that this is really important.”

Cothran says that music education is important because it motivate kids to attend school. “Kids tell us that having music gave them a reason to go to school, and stay in school,” he continues.

But arts education does not only just attract kids. It also makes them smarter and sharper. Dr. Musacchia breaks down the concept of how the brain absorbs new information coupled with music.

“Our brain is like plastic it could be shaped and formed,” she said. “The foundation for this is a term called neuroplasticity. Basically neuroplasticity happens when we play music. When we play music we’re making new connections and our network is being updated, our brains are being changed in order to accommodate our new experience. So then what we now know through science is that music training bestows linguistics and reading advantages. And actually musicians are pretty much better at everything.”

For Kenny Lattimore, like many other R&B crooners in the game, music education played a vital role in the inception of his music career.

“Music became my voice, it became my affirmer that I was good at something,” he said. “Because when you think academically going through any school system we all have to compete we all have to do math, but there was something from a personal development standpoint that I needed to say ‘oh, there is something else that you’re great at.’ And it was also a confidence booster.”

And even for scholars like Dr. Musacchia, music has long served as an inspiration for her career path.

“I am completely immersed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) my job is in STEM. I teach STEM topics to students,” she said. “I was in a funk and disco band, I played trumpet in my late teens and twenties and one night I was on stage and I looked out into the audience and I said, ‘What is going on in their brain?’ So I found a way to go to graduate school at Northwestern University. I graduated, got my doctoral degree, did two post doctorals—one in New Jersey and one in New York—and today I’m an assistant professor at the University of the Pacific. And I’m a research scholar at Stanford University, but it never would have happened if I hadn’t been playing music and been on that stage in that moment to have that spark of inspiration.”

Photo Credit: Taylor Hill for VH1 Save The Music Foundation