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Reading Musical Foundation: Keeping Kids in School in Berks County

By Elizabeth Elstien

Amid reports of schools phasing out music and arts programs, Berks County has a shining light in the Reading Musical Foundation (RMF). Began in 1926 by local music lovers who wanted to preserve music culture in the area, RMF now offers K-12 and college tuition scholarships for various types of instrumentalists and vocalists.

There is a lot of focus placed on science, math, and technology in today's schools, but music can enrich lives in other ways, as well as teach valuable life and business skills. RMF President Keri Shultz understands the value of skills required to succeed in both music and business - collaboration, creativity, practice, accuracy, teamwork - in the 21st century. "Those skill sets will serve our community directly as they [musicians] become bosses, employees, parents, and volunteers," notes Shultz.

A firm believer in the power of music propels Shultz to stay after 12 years with the music foundation. Shultz explains: "If you walk into any classroom it is impossible to decipher which students will and will not succeed in music. The only way to know is to put an instrument in their hands or allow them to sing. RMF makes these opportunities happen, primarily through student support programs like scholarships for private lessons or Operation Replay (an instrument recycling program sponsored by Zeswitz Music), and also by advocating for school music programs when necessary."

Aside from providing a range of audition-based and need-based scholarships and from supporting school music programs, RMF helps in other ways. The foundation funds concerts and music organizations, provides monetary gifts to performing arts centers, and helps students pay for private teachers. All awards are granted only to those in Berks County, including home-schooled music students.

Academics and music go hand in hand. Instruments for K-12 music students are school property, but the instrument distribution is unequal. There tend to be far fewer middle school instruments available than elementary school instruments, forcing those who can't afford their own to quit the music program as they move through the grades. When love of music is what keeps a child coming to school each day, the lack of instruments puts some children at risk of dropping out entirely.

That's where RMF comes into play. The foundation has funded school instruments and placed almost 150 students in the district in the last two years. Shultz proudly states, "One hundred percent of the high school seniors who participated in the music programs at Reading High School have graduated on time." That's music to the ears.

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