Music-Based Mentoring and Academic Improvement in High-Poverty Elementary Schools




achievement gap, after-school, cognitive development, mentoring, music training


Recent research links disparities in children’s language-related brain function to poverty and its correlates. Such disparities are hypothesized to underlie achievement gaps between students from low-income families and more advantaged peers. Interventions that improve language-related brain function in low-income students exist, but evaluations of their implementation within high-poverty elementary schools do not. This comparison-group study evaluates whether implementation within high-poverty elementary schools of Harmony Project music-based mentoring, previously shown in randomized controlled research to improve language-related brain function and literacy in low-income students, might be associated with academic improvement for participants compared with non-participating peers. Standardized academic achievement scores were evaluated retrospectively for 2nd graders who opted into or out of Harmony Project (HP) at baseline (nHP = 218; nnon-HP = 862) for weekly music-based mentoring over 2 years. Adjusting for baseline scores, HP participation was associated with higher standardized scores for math (+17 points; ß = .06, p = .02) and English language arts (+26 points; ß = .08, p = .002). Importantly, students with the lowest prior achievement scores showed the greatest gains for both math (+33 points; ß =.13, p =.02) and English language arts (+39 points; ß =.14, p =.02). Implementation within high-poverty elementary schools of a program previously found to improve language-related brain function in low-income students was associated with significant academic improvement for participants, particularly those with the lowest prior levels of achievement. Findings support the hypothesis that disparities in children’s language-related brain function linked to poverty and its correlates may underlie achievement gaps.

Author Biographies

Hannah M. Holbrook, University of Vermont

Hannah M. Holbrook, PhD is a post-doctoral fellow in Connecting Cultures and NESST (New England Survivors of Torture and Trauma) at the University of Vermont, Department of Psychological Sciences, Vermont Psychological Services

Margaret Martin, Los Angeles, California

Margaret Martin, DrPH, MPH, is a Public Health Consultant and Founder of Harmony Project ( 

Deborah Glik, Fielding School of Public Health, University of California Los Angeles

Deborah Glik, ScD is a full professor in the Department of Community Health Science at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

James J. Hudziak, College of Medicine, University of Vermont

James J. Hudziak, MD is the director of the Vermont Center for Children, Youth & Families at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, in Burlington, VT, where he is also a full professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry.

William E. Copeland, College of Medicine, University of Vermont

William E. Copeland, PhD works in the Vermont Center for Children, Youth & Families and is a professor of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington, VT

Christopher Lund, Long Beach Unified School District

Christopher Lund, EdD is Assistant Superintendent for Middle & K-8 Schools in the Long Beach Unified School District in Long Beach, CA

Jodi G. Fender, Long Beach Unified School District

Jodi G. Fender, PhD is in the Office of Research and School Improvement for the Long Beach Unified School District


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