MANCHESTER – It is often said that music can bring back emotional memories, change a person’s mood and can bring joy to listeners. Because of this it is very useful for therapy.
The Township School District offers a special Music Therapy program at the Regional Day School. Each week, Hannah Zacharias of Mosaic Music Therapy visits students for fun, engaging and beneficial music therapy sessions.
“Music Therapy has had a positively profound effect on our students,” Regional Day School Principal Lisa Michallis said. “Although our teachers are always exposing students to rhythms, basic hand-held instruments and various genres of music, the addition of Ms. Hannah’s techniques brings the students joy and confidence in a different way.”
The Music Therapy program began in 2021 and has been proven to increase social, cognitive, communication, fine and gross motor skills as well as improve the mental and physical help of individuals with special needs. It is fun, engaging, stimulates the brain and brings people together.
The students at Regional Day School love their Music Therapy according to Michallis. She noted that the school is proud to bring this experience to their students.
She added that Music Therapy is not only promoting music and movement, but it also promotes language and exposes students to different cultures and customs. Some classes are even able to write music and perform for the staff and their families.
Zacharias visits the school every week. There are 61 students in the program. Each student participates twice a month. The school has a rotating schedule and about 30 participate each week. The program also continues during the extended school year program that runs during July and August.
“I attend the school on Tuesdays, and from what I have heard so far, students and staff seem to greatly enjoy the program. I work for the private practice that is Mosaic Music Therapy where we specialize in neuro-rehabilitation and developmental services,” she told The Manchester Times.
Zacharias said, “we are based in Sea Girt, though we outsource to other areas/clientele in the community such as assisted living facilities, pediatric hospitals, and individual clients who are unable to attend our facility in person.”
The Regional Day School is a division of the Manchester Township School District. It is a public school for students ages three to twenty-one with moderate to significant disabilities. Students from Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties attend the school.
Special education teacher Kimberly Peel said, “music therapy gives all students an outlet to express themselves. My students always enjoy when Miss Hannah comes into our class. It gives them 45 minutes to give their brains a break and to have fun while having the chance to sing and play with all different types of instruments. RDS is very lucky to have this part of our schedule.”
Allison McCann, a preschool disabilities teacher remarked, “Ms. Hannah brings a calm yet engaging energy to our students and connects with them on an individual basis. Music therapy helps them to feel connected to music, singing and exposes them to different instruments. She encourages them to touch her guitar while playing to feel the vibrations and move their bodies freely based on their developmental abilities. We are thankful for music therapy at Regional Day School.”
Special Education teacher Michelle DeSantis noted that the program “has had a positive impact on my class. Students are always left with a smile on their face after having the opportunity to explore instruments and listen to live music.”
“Students in the Intellectual Disabilities program have been able to gain many new skills through Music Therapy sessions. Students enjoy being introduced to new instruments, learning skills like following rhythm and patterns in music, and collaborating with their peers while singing and playing along to their favorite songs,” special education teacher Angela Koletis added.
Zacharias said that when she was offered a position at Mosaic Music Therapy, she was told that a school had inquired about receiving services from the practice. Mosaic was looking for not only another therapist to take on new clients for the practice, but an individual who would be interested in facilitating services at the Regional Day School.
“I enjoy working with music therapy in groups because it is a great way of using music to strengthen social interactions/communication and promote growth, which is why I was eager to accept the responsibility of bringing music to these amazing students,” Zacharias said.
Zacharias began coordinating with the school’s principal, Lisa Michalis, to formulate a music therapy schedule back in September 2021. “The school was kind enough to provide some musical instruments and equipment they had previously stored and through multiple adjustments regarding session length, settings, participants, and staff assistance, the program was eventually transformed into what it is now.”
She said, in terms of training, “music therapists are required to obtain their bachelor’s degree from an accredited music therapy program approved by the American Music Therapy Association. Program curriculums include various classes on music therapy such as improvisation, functional music therapy, multicultural music therapy, music therapy orientations, as well as general music classes including music theory, piano, voice, and guitar techniques.
“Throughout their education, music therapy students are assigned to practicum sites to begin applying and practicing the skills they had learned in their other classes. They then complete a six-month internship where they gain experience in the field operating under a supervisor who provides them with feedback and guidance during this time,” Zacharias added.
She noted that some individuals choose to pursue a master’s degree to gain more education and to open up more job opportunities, though it is not a requirement at this time.
“Following our internship, we then must pass a national certification exam to become a Board-Certified Music Therapist (MT-BC). This gives us the certification to begin practicing professionally in our field. Many states are also now implementing music therapy licensure to allow for better access to music therapy in healthcare facilities, educational facilities, etc.,” she said.
The therapist said, “it also helps to establish a state-based protection program to ensure that music therapy is provided by individuals who have met the educational and training qualifications. Many parents and teachers have expressed their gratitude and satisfaction for the program.”
“I have been told many students are now more verbal during classes, including those who experience difficulty in communication. Teachers have noticed an increase in attention and self-esteem with older students, and more impulse control in younger students,” she said.
She added that parents have reported an increase in motivation to participate in music, as well as other classroom discussions and activities. “I have also received great feedback from our end-of-the-year performance showcase that the students participate in.
“Many parents and teachers love seeing the students succeed musically and exhibit confidence in their abilities. Music therapy involves the use of music and music techniques to achieve social, emotional, cognitive, physical, and spiritual goals that help guide an individual towards success,” Zacharias said.
“Though many are not aware of its benefits, it is continuing to acquire more recognition and we hope that knowledge of the career keeps growing,” she added.
Michallis added, “we are very fortunate to have this very valuable program through the support of our Superintendent of Schools, Central Office Personnel and Board of Education. We look forward to our Spring Showcase.”