Music has the power to transcend communication challenges, elevate mood, and help to build relationships. It has measurable benefits in the general population, but its effects on individuals with cognitive impairments can be life-changing. The staff and families at West Dover School know this all too well and applied for an EducationMatters grant to fund a music therapy program for their special needs students. West Dover’s TASC and SKILL programs are benefitting from working with a music therapist on a weekly basis thanks to the generosity of donors, and the impact on students, staff, and families is incredible.

“Music therapy goes beyond a typical music class. It engages students individually to work on communication goals; it helps students learn about expressing emotions; it provides opportunities for a better quality of life for students that have limited access to music programs because of specialized conditions,” says Lynn Barchuk, the SKILL teacher at West Dover School.

EducationMatters was invited to attend the school’s music therapy sessions, and had the opportunity to participate in two classes. The smiles on the students’ faces, their willingness to participate, and their eagerness to demonstrate what they’ve learned was a great indication of how receptive the students are to music therapy.

“I have students that don’t speak, but they can make sounds. One little girl, she doesn’t have a loud voice and she’s always very quiet. When we sing some of these songs, she’ll start putting some of the sounds together and she’ll even sing by herself! This [music therapy] really gives her a voice because she has one, and it gives her that chance to use it,” says Lynn.

Funding for this music therapy grant was provided through the Schools Helping Schools Fund, which was established by a group of Briar Hill School parents and community members. They were passionate about donating to schools that had a harder time raising funds for educational enhancements. Many schools that are situated in less-affluent areas have no parent council representation, which ultimately means fewer people to assist in school fundraising projects. After the establishment of this Fund, other school parent councils within Calgary felt inspired to donate, and because of their generosity schools like West Dover are able to provide their special-need students with powerful resources that can transform their lives for the better!