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  • Stacey Bowers

For Conway Students, Science is Music to Their Ears

Patty Oeste, a seventh grade teacher at Ruth Doyle Middle School, located in Conway, Ark., didn’t know what to expect when she launched her first project on, but she knew that her students needed supplies and she had to try something new to make up for what her school’s budget severely lacked.

“Over the years I have raised funds by selling candy, pencils and waiting tables with student helpers,” she explained. “The money comes together very slowly that way.”

She knew of several colleagues who had earned supplies via DonorsChoose, an online fundraising platform where teachers may post projects they’d like to complete with their students but for which they don’t have the funds to purchase the necessary supplies. Once the project is approved by the website, the teacher can share it with his or her colleagues and friends and ask for donations, and DonorsChoose makes the project available to a global audience. When a teacher launches a project in Arkansas that teaches the arts or infuses the arts into another subject, Thea Foundation immediately kicks in with half of the funding, up to $300, to encourage people to donate to the project and get it fulfilled faster. Patty’s project was fulfilled within five days. Then, DonorsChoose quickly bought her requested supplies and shipped them directly to her school.

Patty’s project combined music and science, because unlike a lot of curricula that single out each subject, she knows the two are related. “Whereas we think of music as being creative and science as being logical, really music is logical also, and science is creative, too,” she expounded. “Using the skills of acoustics and physics, we can combine that knowledge with the creativity and beauty of the arts to produce new types of instruments.”

Using supplies like rubber bands, foam, wood, paper plates, popsicle sticks, terra cotta pots, beads, wrenches, wooden spoons and garbage cans, paid for and delivered by DonorsChoose with funding from Thea Foundation, Patty’s students were able to think creatively and mathematically to construct their own versions of instruments like didgeridoos, ocean drums, box banjos, den dens, thumb pianos and more. Students who had little or no musical background as well as students who had studied music worked together to create music with their instruments, an activity that made the students excited about the subjects they were learning and about school itself. “We ended up making so many different types of instruments through exploration of sound (physics),” she said. “We made things that worked and things that didn’t work. When things didn’t work, it was fabulous watching the students try to puzzle out why they didn’t work and how they could get them to work. Almost every single instrument ended up being playable.”

Patty said that her students’ musical backgrounds ranged from having had piano lessons since they were six years old to having had no musical instruction whatsoever, “however, they all possess incredibly creative minds and a curiosity and dedication to expanding their knowledge and experiences,” Patty said. “I have found that it is best to put an idea out there, to guide the creation and organization of such projects, and then to step aside and let it happen. I am rarely disappointed! It is an exciting age and a crucial one in their development as future adults. I want the arts to be a part of their life experience in whatever way I can facilitate. I am convinced that it is more than worth the effort.”

Patty’s project clearly left a big impression on her students. She recalled several things she heard during the lesson. Shelley P. said, “Everything is music!” Timberlee C. said that “building and playing the instruments showed us that working together, we can come up with something really fantastic.” Alex P. took what he learned home to his parents: “I loved exploring pitch with water. My parents were surprised when I made a water xylophone at dinner.” And Peyton T. said that “Music opened up a new world of exploration. I never really thought about how much science is in music. The music part made everything so much more interesting.”

As one who works with children all day in an educational setting, Patty has seen firsthand how the arts can make a lesson so much more accessible and fun to learn for students, and she tries to incorporate the arts into all subjects wherever she can. “I always think that our students may not remember the day they learned long division, but they will surely remember the time they created their own instrument,” she said.

Emboldened by her first experience using the DonorsChoose system to gain Thea Foundation grants, Patty is planning more projects to launch on the site. During the 2014-2015 school year, Thea Foundation leveraged $25,000 into $50,000 using DonorsChoose, supplying 133 projects and 27,600 students across Arkansas with quality art supplies to enhance learning in every subject.

The 2015-2016 school year isn’t even over, and we’ve already exhausted our budget and fulfilled $50,000 worth of projects, meaning the demand for creative materials in Arkansas schools is rising. That’s why we’ve set a goal of raising $25,000 on April 7 that we’ll leverage into $100,000 of grants for Arkansas schools.

On April 7, please help us further this program by donating to Thea Foundation via the website. Arkansas Gives, hosted by the Arkansas Community Foundation, is an annual statewide call to action, and your donation will be matched by Arkansas Gives sponsors, meaning your gift to Thea Foundation automatically grows. But you must give through the website to magnify your donation!

Together we can put $100,000 worth of supplies into the hands of students in need all across the state!

Photography by Mark Fonville

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