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Indy Star’s latest on Tindley Genesis!

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Music lessons never end at Indy charter school

You expect to hear first-graders singing their ABC’s or maybe “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

But not at the Tindley Genesis Academy. Here, in a multipurpose room, 6- and 7-year-olds gleefully sing a song from Jacques Offenbach’s comic operetta “Orpheus in the Underworld.” It’s just a typical Monday afternoon.

While some schools are cutting back music classes, Tindley Genesis in Indianapolis brings them center stage. The Northside charter school that opened this fall has a completely music-based curriculum for kindergarten to Grade 3.

Students at Tindley Genesis, the newest member of the Tindley Accelerated School charter network, receive four music classes a week: a general music class, a performing arts class, a world drumming class and piano lessons. Through these courses, Tindley Genesis hopes to foster better eye contact, stage presence, vocal projection and self-confidence.

Music continues in math, science and reading. Teachers recite raps to help students remember the seasons and “times” tables. Basic reading is taught through drumming.

Todd Hawks, former high school music teacher and principal at another Tindley elementary, developed the school’s music-centered foundation last year. He spoke with music educators, visited schools and extensively researched the academic benefits of the arts. Tindley Genesis, with Hawks at the helm, opened this year with 145 students, and plans to expand to Grade 4 for the 2016-17 school year.

Tindley Genesis may be the only school of its kind in Indiana, but studies have shown the importance of arts education.

According to a 2012 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, students of low socioeconomic backgrounds with in-depth arts involvement had higher levels of college enrollment, higher career aspirations and more civic engagement than those with less arts participation. Nearly nine out of 10 Tindley Genesis students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.

For many public schools, math and English are given top priority because of standardized testing.

“Most people think, ‘How do we do better in reading and math? We need more reading and math instruction,’” Hawkes said. “We believe we need to make the instruction that we have more engaging and more fun for students, so they do remember it.”

Dorothea Davis’ daughter Olivia is a second-grader at Tindley Genesis.

“My daughter may not be interested in reciting the Bill of Rights verbatim. But if you set it to music, she will sing the exact words all day long. She has experienced French, Swahili, German, learning to read, do math and science, etc., through music,” she said.

Tindley Genesis has partnerships with local arts organizations, a key part of their musical mission. The school partnered with the Indianapolis Opera for an after-school program led by the company’s artists in residence. Six- and 7-year-olds learned how to use props, mirror movements and became familiar with operatic songs.

“We were all pleasantly surprised with the already present musical aptitude of these kids,” said Allison Nicholas, one of the opera’s resident artists. “They enthusiastically embraced pretty much all of the concepts we’ve presented.”

Unlike many arts education partnerships, the opera’s after-school activities at Tindley Genesis were not just about cultivating future opera-goers.

“Maybe the next great jazz pianist is in there,” said Kevin Patterson, general director for the opera. “Maybe the next great computer coder is in there. Fundamentally, if we can inspire the kids in that room to use creative thinking as a means to become more educated and inspired, then I think that’s what our role is.”

Hawks hopes Tindley Genesis will be a hub for the arts in the city and that more organizations will come on board to provide learning opportunities for students.

“We are always about sharing what we know and what we learn because it’s not about our kids. It’s about all kids.”

Tyler Dague is a 2015 Arts Journalism Fellow. The fellowship, funded partially by a National Endowment for the Arts grant, is a partnership between the Arts Council of Indianapolis and The Star.