After-school music programs have the potential to make a positive difference in many aspects of children’s lives and the community in which the children live. To a professional or amateur musician or music-lover, no scientific data is needed to convey the value of music as a life-enriching experience. To an observer of the children participating in POP, the joy that music brings to their lives will be obvious. However, POP needs to demonstrate that the program makes a real and significant difference in children’s lives while providing a foundation for a prosperous and sustainable society in the City of Philadelphia.
Play On, Philly! is fortunate to have key partnerships with outstanding organizations that understand the needs of children and families. We are happy to be partnering with WolfBrown, one of the leading consulting companies for funders, nonprofit institutions and public agencies. Through our partnership, Wolf Brown is able to offer an objective, outside perspective that is necessary for effective assessment and evaluation of our program. They began their evaluation of our students in 2012 and the study is ongoing.
Children’s lives at the intersection of risk and resilience
The relationship between exposure to high levels of cumulative risk and poor life outcomes is one of the most robust findings in the developmental literature. Nevertheless, many children who grow up in high-risk environments go on to succeed in school and life thanks to positive aspects of their home and neighborhood environments such as supportive parents, caring teachers, and access to high-quality out-of-school educational opportunities. There is compelling evidence that these resilience factors serve to mitigate the deleterious effects of risk on development.
Play on Philly: A unique resilience factor?
Our evaluation is designed to test the following premise: Play on Philly, together with other resilience factors in the child’s environment, will buffer the effects of risk on the development of executive functions – a set of distinct but related abilities that allows children to purposefully direct their behavior, plan, and make the choices necessary to achieve their goals – and thereby improve the academic and prosocial outcomes of its participants.
Testing our model
To evaluate this model, students at St. Francis de Sales School were randomly assigned via a lottery to participate in either Play on Philly (the ‘program’ group) or an after-school tutoring program (the ‘control’ group). Each year we administer a battery of tasks designed to test children’s executive functions, collect annual measures about children’s effort and progress as musicians, their achievement and behavior in school, their extracurricular activities, and both positive and negative aspects of their home environment.
Results from the first year of testing (2012-2013) indicate that students enrolled in Play On, Philly! exhibited better performance on tasks of executive functions, higher levels of academic achievement, and higher rates of school attendance (pro-social behavior) than students not involved in the program. When compared to a control group of students at the same school, POP students:
· Scored on average 10 points higher on standardized tests
· Received higher grades in English and Language Arts and larger, more positive changes in math from the first to the third trimester
· Scored higher on tests of Executive Functions
· Had 30% fewer absences from school than non-POP students.
The evaluation is ongoing and will follow students from year to year.
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