Even Jon Dean couldn’t help but be a little skeptical at first.
When the recent Youngstown State University graduate began training for the CreativeBridge Coalition’s music-based curriculum for children with autism, he thought one thing.
“I was like ‘This is a drum circle,’” Dean said. “But it really isn’t. When you see the kids’ response to it, you can tell it’s been developed over many years, and it’s targeting some of the hurdles that are associated with the kids and the levels they’re at.”
After receiving training shortly after he graduated from YSU in the spring of 2013, Dean has taught the course at a couple local schools beginning this past fall.
He teaches one titled “Count Me In” at the Rich Center for Autism in Fedor Hall. This is the second year the Rich Center has used the program, as YSU graduate Samantha Russo taught the course during its first year.
The hour-long class is taught two days per week to the 10 children, ages 7-9, and incorporates musical tactics — like drumming and singing — into traditional curriculum.
Working with the teacher’s lesson plans, Dean’s class uses The Rhythmic Arts Curriculum (TRAP) to strengthen the children’s creativity as well as their social and academic skills.
“They’ve responded very well to it,” said Justine Bevins, a lead instruction specialist at the Rich Center. “As they’ve gone on, they’ve all gotten a lot better at sitting for longer periods of time, and they know what’s expected of them when he comes in.”
Bevins compares the program to a music class, which the Rich Center lacks. Dean, who graduated with a degree in chemistry, particularly focuses on math and science aspects.
“At the end of the day, we just want to make kids happier and more attentive to school,” Dean said. “We use the music to break down stress levels and get them to focus on fun activities.”
The non-profit CBC was formed by two Youngstown natives — Dan Marshall, a former professor, and Bill Bodine, a retired musician who now resides in Los Angeles, Cal.
Dean received training from Stephen Flinn, a top executive of the CBC in LA. So far, he’s has heard positive reviews.
“We do these surveys where the parents and the teachers respond to it, and I’ve seen an increase in the positive responses for sure,” Dean said. “They have good days and bad days, but the kids seem to dig it.”
Stemming from the program, the YSU Board of Trustees recently began funding a study of the correlation between music, academic performance and sleep problems in children with autism.
The study involves YSU graduates and professors from multiple academic fields, including biology, chemistry and education.
“Hopefully, all the things we’re targeting with the inclusion, they’ll all come together and feed off each other,” Dean said.
Dean also performs the TRAP curriculum at the Fairhaven School in Niles, slightly adapting his curriculum to populations and teachers’ specific needs.
And while he’s applying for graduate school and not sure just what his future holds, Dean admits the CBC has changed his outlook.
“It definitely shifted me toward the community outreach aspect because [music and science] have a definite blend,” Dean said. “At the end of the day, it’s a rewarding experience for sure. But hopefully for the kids more than me.”