Can music help at-risk students succeed? This woman has set out to prove it can.
True
UCLA Optimists

In 1997, Margaret Martin had an experience that would change her life forever.

Her 5-year-old son was playing Brahms on the violin at the Hollywood Farmers Market when a group of teenage boys closed in around them.

Her first instinct was fear.


But she quickly realized the young group just wanted to listen to the beautiful piece by the young violinist, and it warmed her heart.

All images via Harmony Project, used with permission.

This sparked her idea for Harmony Project — a program that promotes positive development for at-risk teens through the practice and performance of music.

No stranger to hardship, Martin is a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, and she was homeless for a year. She still managed to put herself through college, studying Social Science. By age 43, she received her master's and doctoral degrees from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

That day at the farmer's market inspired her to help others access the kinds of educational opportunities she found — no matter their background.

“I view it as a human rights issue because I believed every child that shows up at school deserves a chance at their own complete education,” she says.

During her studies, Martin learned that an impoverished environment, i.e., life in a “poor household or violence-fueled neighborhood,” could potentially alter a child’s brain development and prevent them from learning.

Studies have also shown, for example, that for mothers who have not completed their high school education, the reading and math proficiency of their children was deeply impacted.

Martin was confident that music — especially collaborative music — could help these kids boost their academics.

“We call it mentoring through music,” Martin explains.

Through musical education — specifically, teaching kids to play instruments in group settings — Martin's program was founded on the belief that music had the potential to positively benefit a child's academic studies.

A study of Harmony Project kids showed improvement in their brain's ability to distinguish similar-sounding syllables, which is a skill linked to literacy. The benefits reaped from playing and listening to music occur in the same areas of the brain that are traditionally weaker in children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Therefore, strengthening one area strengthened the others.

In other words, these group music lessons help their brains develop and become more receptive to new knowledge.

By learning the language of music and performing with confidence, the kids involved in Harmony Project can go on to mimic the lessons they learn in music class in their everyday lives, helping them in all their school subjects and improving their grades.

Today, the program is helping over 2,000 students from low-income areas in Los Angeles.

A study of Harmony Project students found that those who were more engaged with the program showed increases in reading scores, while those kids less engaged did not show improvements.

In addition, an overwhelming 93% of Harmony Project seniors have enrolled in college in the past decade.

This is all the data Martin needs to know that her program is making a difference in these kids' lives.

Many of the kids love the program so much they use their weekend time to make a two-hour round-trip commute on Saturdays.

One former Harmony Project student named Paolo Sayo says that he enrolled in the program in sixth grade as an immigrant from the Philippines. Without Harmony, he and his family didn’t have the resources to continue his violin lessons.

Once he enrolled, not only did he get the lessons, he also got better at music practice, and his grades in other subjects went up too.

“Before I joined, I hated the practicing aspect of violin. I just wanted to get it over with,” Sayo says. “After a while, I started appreciating practicing more. Having that discipline transferred to my school work, where I eventually became an honor student.”

Today, he’s studying to be a health care administrator, but his time with the Harmony Project was so beneficial that he has decided, 10 years later, to remain a mentor for current students.  

The program has a 2-4-year wait list, so Martin is working hard to help expand the program.

Harmony Project is also winning recognition. In 2009, it took home the Coming Up Taller Award at the White House, the nation’s highest honor for an arts-based youth program, from President Obama.

Martin is hoping to use the accolades to help expand the Harmony Project nationwide. Music education and other arts programs have been claiming to boost overall grades for decades, but there’s nothing like a handshake from the President to prove that it’s striking the right note and people are taking notice.

True

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday are teaming up to find the people who lead with love everyday.

Know someone in your neighborhood who's known for their optimistic attitude, commitment to bettering their community and always leading with love? Tell us about them for the chance to win a $2,000 grant to keep doing good in their community.

Nomination ends November 22, 2020

via Brittany Kinley / Facebook

Brittany Kinley, a mother from Mansfield, Texas, had a hilarious mom fail her and she's chalking it up to being just another crazy thing that happened in 2020.

When Kinley filled out the order form for her son Mason's kindergarten class pictures, there was an option to have his name engraved into the photos. But Kinley wasn't interested in having her son's name on the photos so she wrote "I DON'T WANT THIS" on the box.

Well, it appears as though she should have left the box blank because the computer or incredibly literal human that designed the photographs wrote "I DON'T WANT THIS" where mason's name should be.

Keep Reading Show less
True

A lot of people here are like family to me," Michelle says about Bread for the City — a community nonprofit located in Washington DC that provides local residents with food, clothing, health care, social advocacy, and legal services. And since the pandemic began, the need to support organizations like Bread for the City is greater than ever, which is why Amazon is Delivering Smiles to local charities across the country this holiday season.

Watch the full story:

Amazon is giving back by fulfilling hundreds of AmazonSmile Charity Lists, and donating essential pantry and food items to help organizations like Bread for the City provide to those disproportionately impacted this year.

Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a local charity in your community, or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your charity of choice.
popular

Funny how a 'new' male problem is a very old problem for women. Amy Poehler explains.

Not many people are brave enough to talk back to the guy who co-created "Chappelle's Show" when he says something kinda clueless. But not many people are Amy Poehler.

Men struggle to comprehend the pressures women feel. The same is true of women!

Gah! We'll never get along.

This conversation between comedian Neal Brennan and Amy Poehler is a pretty good example of how hard it can be to figure life out sometimes.

Neal, the genius who co-created "Chappelle's Show," sat down with Amy for his show "The Approval Matrix." The topic? WHAT are men supposed to be now? Cool? Adorkable? Both? Neither?

Keep Reading Show less
via UDOT / Facebook

In December 2018, The Utah Department of Transportation opened the largest wildlife overpass in the state, spanning 320 by 50 feet across all six lanes of Interstate 80.

Its construction was intended to make traveling through the I-80 corridor in Summit County safer for motorists and the local wildlife.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that there were over 100 animal incidents on the interstate since 2016, giving the stretch of highway the unfortunate nickname of "Slaughter Row."

Keep Reading Show less