Parker Academy’s Music Program

At Parker Academy we believe the work we are doing with these students is really important.  We are hoping to have an ongoing dialog with the people and programs that make Parker Academy what it is.

Today we are getting to know more about the Parker Academy Music Program. It seems to be an ever evolving, highly therapeutic program; and we are chatting with the music teacher, Zack Jones, to find out a little more about why this program is so important and inspirational for these kids.

Zack, how did music affect you when you were this age and how did you get into music?

“Music was basically the thing that always intrigued me. It always made sense in a way but was also a mystery. It always came back to my mom. She was a pianist when I was growing up, and she use to play piano all the time when I was little. I never took lessons, but I would take time playing and exploring sounds on the piano. I still come back to it, what it did for me emotionally and the fact that music can easily strike up emotions. I was really into music in terms of movies, in fact, growing up I wanted to me a film composer. As a kid I would come up with music to films in my head. My first piece was when I was about six. It was a four-part song, with distinct parts on the piano that told the story of how our dog died. The story of him playing, getting out, getting lost, and then getting hit by a car. You could clearly hear the distinct parts in the story, which is relatable at a young age.  It was my way of processing that my dog died; those hard emotions. Music continued for me from that point.”

“This program exists in a new area of music, an area that blurs the lines between music education and music therapy.”


The music program existed before you came, what was it about this specific program that intrigued you and made you want to work at Parker Academy?

“When I first moved to New Hampshire I had a chance encounter with my predecessor, who refined the program. I stopped by his yard sale because I saw instruments. We chatted about mutual interests and how I also taught music. Two months later he had an idea that he might be leaving this position, and what I thought about it. I have a music education degree, but I had this idea that I did not want to work in the standard public music system. I am always a fan of doing things differently.  I love to be more creative and more open ended. Before I even moved to New Hampshire I was already looking into programs dealing with music therapy. I was already interested in this bridge between music therapy and music education because for me, music was both. It was a thing I studied and it became academic. I got really into the music education part and the social emotional part was undeniable. That’s what I wanted to tap into more. Explore more. When I moved to New Hampshire it was right in front of me. This program exists in a new area of music, an area that blurs the lines between music education and music therapy. My predecessor and I are different people but when he described who the students were, and what the position was, it was the obvious next step. We are always trying to move this program forward.”

While you are talking about moving forward, we all know that the arts and music programs are continually getting cut from schools while Parker Academy’s is constantly growing. Why do you think that is?

“It is amazing if you think about the numbers. The fact that a school of 50 kids or less has a full-time music and art teacher is unheard of. There are schools in the same place with four times as many kids that do not have a full-time music teacher. So I guess that’s a credit to David Parker for really valuing that. I know it’s built into the philosophy of the Parker Academy, which is another reason why this is the perfect place for me to be able to commit to full time teaching. It allows for more kids to have access to music this way. They will come in contact with it at one point or another here.  I will basically have all of the students for at least one semester. It all comes down to providing more access to music for the students.”

How do you incorporate these important concepts into your classroom?

“I think generally speaking, most of us know intuitively the value of learning and participating in music. There have been quite a few scientific studies about what happens in the brain when we play, learn, and practice music. It is pretty well documented but I think in our setting, with our students, it’s even more important that they have access to music. The music classroom and program here provides them with social emotional learning opportunities as well as music education opportunities. Playing music together in a group is not something a lot of these students have had the opportunity to do in the past. If you can see how they respond to being in this environment and having exposure to being with others, creating with others, even something as simple as being musically in sync with others; it is powerful.”

“We specifically created this program to be as student centered as possible.”


You say that it is easy to see the confidence and self-esteem of these students change when you are in the classroom. What does this look like?

“There are definitely a lot of students that have not had music in the past. They will start in this class and be unsure, shy, not have much confidence in the sounds that they are making. Fast forward to a month in, a semester, or after a performance; the change is obvious. You can see it in their body language, [and this carries to outside of the music room as well] their self-esteem, after they have an open mic night under their belt. I know this to be true, attendance in the classroom has increased after a performance. All the other metrics that we measure for student performance and progress will have an uptick right after a performance night. [We have never done a wide study on this but I definitely have seen this to be true in a number of students here].”

“What’s great about this program is that, as much as possible, it is student centered.  We go to great lengths to make it relevant to the students in the classroom. Our small class size allows each class to be unique, working on different songs and programming. That is an important part of it. Most of the music we are playing the students bring forward. There is some music that I present as well because I have knowledge of music that I think they might like. I would say it is 20% from me and 80% from students choosing the songs. I am asking them what they are listening to that morning coming in off the bus. Then maybe later that same day we are learning that song in the classroom. You know there’s the personalization, exploring the music they like, how do they produce those sounds themselves, and what’s actually going in that song. Really digging deeper into these pieces of music that lends itself into realizing there is a lot more going on. It is more than just teaching the physical sounds to produce it. Over time their sense of music and their perception changes. Their taste may even change when they learn about/realize what’s going on in the music. What came before that, or what influenced the band they listen to. There is a strong sense of identity that often comes from the music that you listen to especially as an adolescent. That’s an important time. You will always hold those songs dear to you. There is a recent study that came out saying that the music that you listen to during this time period effects the brain differently because of the chemicals and hormones that are firing in the brain between 12-15 years old, that makes music just ‘the best’. There is something about the music you listen to in that time period that will instantly bring you back to that same place. There are some deep seeds planted in adolescence in terms of the music you listen to, and we explore those seeds directly in this music program.”

Why do you think students want to be involved with a program like this one at Parker Academy?

“I would say one of the biggest benefits is that we have the ability here to ‘start where the child is at.  Because of our small class sizes we can go a little farther than that. We are able to talk about things more in depth. What are you listening to? What is that? Let’s figure that out. What are you interested in? What is it about music that gets you excited? What is it that sparks your interest and we can go right to it. We are different in some really interesting and important ways. We give time to explore. We specifically created this program to be as student centered as possible. We look at where their interests are.  What is important to them should be reflected in everything we do. This is not imposing or regimenting everything to a small degree of learning, but creating a place to solidify a project-based student centered environment.”

Looking around your classroom it is clear to see you create some serious projects with the kids. What is the importance of technology in your classroom?

“The technology in an alternative music program like this is extremely important. Knowing the direction I wanted to move in, it seemed obvious to me to start embracing technology.  We are small enough that we can have individual iPads for each students.  During the last couple years I have gone to a few clinics about using iPads in the music room. You now have the power to create, compose, and produce music on a professional level with technology like an iPad or iPhone, which most students already have. There is a Grammy award winning producer who creates all of his music on an iPhone. This is the world we live in currently and this is something we should know. It is exciting the capabilities we now have working with an iPad. We have done some individual and group projects using the technology we have currently. There are a variety of different apps that we incorporate to make music creation really accessible to everyone in the classroom.  Some connect visual arts with music, for those who are more visual. There are all kinds of visual adaptations you can make as well. We are really just scratching the surface in the last couple years. On our computers we have the ability to make professional level recordings.  We can record live sound with the microphones and plug directly into our keyboards and drums.  Students go through the entire process of recording, sound engineering, and production. There’s the possibility to unitize this technology and these things are becoming more common in our everyday life. We have even composed music for movies the students have made in other classes. There are a lot of cross curriculum work to be done with technology as well.”

[“Follow the Rhythm”  written, recorded, and produced by the Parker Academy Ensemble]   

 You allow time for the kids to play out of the classroom. What are some of the activities you do?

“This is kind of in line with other music programs. Performance is an important aspect of music. It’s not our centerpiece, we are not always preparing for a performance. Sometimes we are just exploring and learning other things. Performance is a real important part in bringing what we have been working on up to a level where we feel comfortable playing for the public. It brings things into perspective for us, a reality check to a lot of things we do it. We could easily get lost in exploring, but if we don’t solidify things and start to actually put it together, then we are missing a whole aspect of being a musician. I truly believe that we can all be musicians, just because we are human. That is kind of my philosophy, and I think that effects what we are doing here as well. As musicians, playing music for others is part of what we can do to present our gift to the world.  We do that in a couple of different ways. Our most consistent being our ‘Open Mic’ performances., everyone participates in them.  We take great joy and pride in playing for our community, and take every opportunity to perform at activities downtown such as the “Rock N’ Race.”

Busking in downtown Concord

“I truly believe that we can all be musicians, just because we are human.”

“Students that want to go that next step, and we have a good handful of those, allow us to look for other forms of performance opportunities. This year we looked forward to busking on the streets in downtown Concord. There is an immediacy playing for real people, random people, on the street. It is a completely unique experience that allows you to be in the moment and improvise at times. Performing in general is a practice in getting out of your comfort zone. This is a big deal and is something that we plan on and prepare for. It is part of being in this program, getting kids out of their comfort zone and into their performance. We have performed at the library, and taken a caroling group for the holidays around town into stops on Main Street. Any extra musical opportunities that we can put together we certainly try to make happen. We also have an ensemble. This has been something we have done since the start of the music program at Parker. There are always a handful of kids who want to go the extra step outside of classroom [even in this small of a school]. This would be another reason that a student may take interest in coming here. For the kids that are more dedicated in music, and want to put in extra time, then this is the group for you.”

Is there anything else you would like to add about the music program?

“The importance of the student centered nature of the program. The fact that we are learning songs that primarily come from the students and the class size allows us to do that. The fact that we are trying to incorporate social-emotional growth as well as academic growth is somewhat unique.   This is a therapeutic day school, where the entire staff work together to help our students to move forward, to develop into vibrant, healthy human beings.That’s a big factor and an important aspect of our school. We know the arts are inherently therapeutic so providing access to the arts on a daily basis is a big factor.”

“This is a therapeutic day school, where the entire staff work together to help our students to move forward, to develop into vibrant, healthy human beings.”

Open Mic Night

Open Mic Night is a tradition we have that dates back to the early days of the music program here at Parker Academy. Although it has evolved over the years with our students and our school, the spirit of the event remains the same. It is an opportunity for any and all students to share the music they love, and gain valuable experience through live performance.

At Parker Academy our instruction is student centered and highly individualized to enhance strengths and support needs. Our music program is no exception. Students get to choose the songs they will be learning and performing, and each song is arranged and tailored to the individuals who will be playing it. By starting from where our students are at, and building our instruction around their strengths and interests, we are able to make the learning experience more meaningful and authentic.

Music is part of what makes us human, it connects us to our feelings and to each other. No matter the style, genre or time period, music has this ability. It is something we value a great deal here at Parker Academy, and it’s on full display at each of our Open Mic Nights.

Thank you to all the friends and families that came out to support these talented young musicians!

Multicultural Food Fest at Parker Academy

An amazing Multicultural Food event was held at Parker Academy as a diverse potluck party. Students and staff brought here the favorite dish that represents their family culture, or the one they simply enjoy.





Taking a count from the feast yesterday our families’ heritage include at least these 15 countries: Columbia, Iraq, Puerto Rico, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Russia, Italy, Nigeria, French-Canada, Albania, Philippines, U.S.A, Norway.

We all enjoyed varieties of delicious food such as Swedish meatballs, Irish chicken stew, Puerto Rico – rice and gandules, Iraq’s noodles chicken & raising, French-Canadian meat pie, German dumpling, Nigeria’s rice, smoked salmon with onion, capers & cream cheese with dill, BBQ chicken wings, macaroni & cheese, oysters, brotchen- German sandwiches, spaghetti-es, sweet & sour cocktail meatballs, Swedish braid, Italian cookies, Russian cake, waffles, Viennese “Xmas Trees”, cheesecake, chocolate chip cookies, baklava, spicy pumpkin pie cookies, and brownies.

Our students had some excellent conversations about the food and the different flavors. This event was wonderful, with everyone feeling really good about all of the various foods. It gave everyone a chance to socialize around a multi-cultural event. We are proud of the students and this showed that they are proud of their heritage.

-Ermira Nakuci

Taking Part: State House Scarves

In the true spirit of giving the middle school students have spent the past few weeks making scarves to hand out. They designed and created scarves for those who are cold and in need this winter. The students went downtown and tied the scarves to trees and posts for those who may want or need them.

‘State House Scarves’ or ‘Scarvesgiving’ has been a Parker Academy tradition held for many years and we hope to continue giving back to the community throughout the year.

Consider A Social Media Diet

From the Tribune News Service

According to a paper in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology’s December issue,
tightening Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat use can lower loneliness and depression.
University of Penn. psychologist Melissa Hunt led the study, which surveyed 143 students.
The study did not ask students to abstain from social media. The researchers explained this
choice in the paper, noting, “It is unrealistic to expect young people to forgo this information
stream entirely.” Rather, the students who were cutting their screen time kept to 10 minutes on
Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat each day — no more than a half-hour on all platforms

The social media diets didn’t have much of an influence on anxiety or self-acceptance, but after three weeks, students who limited their time on the apps scored lower on the UCLA Loneliness Scale. For students with depression, symptoms declined by the end.

A Cigna study released this year found that 41 percent of people in the Philadelphia area — and
nearly half of Americans — are experiencing loneliness. That research found that the younger
generations were the loneliest. Hunt explained: “The extent to which young people are using
social media can interfere with time spent on activities that can more genuinely foster selfesteem,
like getting work done, or true intimacy, or hanging with your friends in the real world.”

The trouble, she explained, is that many social media users curate what they post and leave the
rough times (and rough selfies) out. People may share bad experiences in Reddit communities,
while Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat feeds might read more like only best moments. In
real intimacy, she noted, the ups and downs are expressed in the same space. On social
media, Hunt observed, “you don’t get that healthy mix that you need in growing healthy
relationships, with both the good and the bad.”

For depression and loneliness, though, the results suggest that “awareness alone is not
sufficient,” Hunt said. Social media diets can make a particular impact in this regard because
the platforms, she explained, give “the illusion of connectedness and not true connectedness.”

Taking Part: Celebrating 10 Years with Hal Liberty

This Wednesday afternoon November 7th, Parker Academy hosted a special visitor, Hal Liberty.

Hal has an extensive woodcraft shop in Bradford, where for 33 years in his retirement, he has been making wooden toys for children who otherwise would have little if anything under the tree. Parker students have been volunteering to help Hal with this project for ten years, and it has been a great collaboration.

Hal spoke to the school about his background, how he got into this project, and who are the volunteers and beneficiaries. He also brought many samples of his work, to the delight of students and teachers, including planes of all types, cars, trucks, and even a cradle.  All are handcrafted from a variety of woods – including mahogany, maple, and walnut – and are designed to be completely safe for use by any child.

When Parker students are volunteering at his wood-shop, Hal walks them through safety procedures, then sets each up at a particular station, instructing them how to operate the various machines used to make the toys at different stages in the process.  Hal is personable, jovial, and very patient, and his love of making toys for kids is infectious. At the end of his presentation, Hal was presented with a Parker t-shirt and a certificate conferring on him the title of “Honorary Industrial Arts Teacher.”  Oh, and he is 85.

By Joe Webster


Counteract the Effects of Toxic Stress

by Martha Burns, Ph.D

STRESS!  Just the word alone causes an anxiety reaction for many of us even though stress is a part of everyone’s daily life. In fact, days on end without any stress at all would be pretty boring even though we probably all long for that sometimes.

Neuroscientists have explained how some stress is actually good for us; it helps us stay alert and adapt to changes in the world around us.

Educators and athletic coaches have found that the stress of competition through grading or scoring helps students and athletes maintain motivation. But stress can also be very harmful.  I suspect all of us have had personal experiences where we made a critical mistake or forgot something very important because we were stressed out about a problem in our daily life. So what’s the difference? Is there a dividing line between good stress and bad stress? Is it the type of stress or quantity that matters?

Although a simplistic explanation is that stress may be like many other inevitable aspects of human life – in moderation stress is good for us, in excess it is harmful. Brain scientists clarify the distinction from a biological and psychological perspective. The scientists differentiate between “tolerable stress” and “toxic stress” and emphasize how the effects on the body are quite different.

Tolerable vs Toxic Stress 

To understand these two types of stress it’s helpful to begin with an explanation of the brain’s stress mechanism. For these purposes we can separate the brain into two major divisions. We are all familiar with the advanced thinking part of the brain – the cerebrum. When we conjure an image of the human brain, it is the cerebrum we picture. But beneath that part of our brain is a more ‘body function’ oriented brain region that handles emotions, as well as basic body states like hunger and sleep. In that region there is the limbic system where emotions like fear, anger and joy are processed. Nearby is an area called the hypothalamus and a gland called the adrenal gland which work together to release hormones in response to emotions or other body states.

What physically happens with stress?

One hormone produced by the adrenal gland in response to stress is called cortisol. That hormone is used by the body to increase our blood sugar level to enhance metabolism – helping us turn food into energy. But at the same time it suppresses our immune system, making us more susceptible to illness. Many of us are familiar with the practical effects of increased cortisol if we feel ravenously hungry, for example, after a stressful day.

Another hormone produced by the adrenal gland in response to stress is adrenaline, also known as epinephrine.   Adrenaline causes an increase in breathing rate as well as blood circulation while it prepares our muscles for exertion. Like cortisol, adrenaline increases metabolism, especially for carbohydrates – thereby giving us the energy we need to avoid or tackle whatever it is that causes our stress.

Tolerable stressors give us the energy and strength through the increased metabolism and heightened bodily response, to get a job done effectively and efficiently.  For school-aged children, the stress of an upcoming test may provide a student with the motivation and energy to read and memorize new material. For an athlete, the stress of competition should help provide the edge needed to win. In all of these examples, the stress remains tolerable because there is an end in sight – the work project is completed.   The excess hormones then decrease, and there is a period of rest or relaxation that follows.

The difference with toxic stress is that there is no relief – the stress is ongoing and unremitting. The fight and flight hormone levels remain elevated for extended periods of time, not only negatively affecting the human body, but also changing the brain.   It’s important to remember in this regard that the brain is an experience dependent organ – it gets better at what it does most. Practice the piano a lot and you will push your brain to increase musical skills.

But, herein lies the problem with chronic toxic stress – the brain is focused on and therefore over-exercising stress responses (fight or flight).  When that happens, the brain is preparing us to act quickly and decisively, no time for thinking about the problem. So in essence, the thinking brain is blocked, so it is not exercising skills needed to do well in school.

As the brain gets better and better at responding quickly to stressful situations, the individual who has experienced toxic stress reacts more impulsively to potential stressors, like a bump on the shoulder, which may not bother someone else at all.  And, he or she remains agitated for a much longer period of time. For a student in school that can translate to highly impulsive behavior and increased aggression.  It may appear to be a lack of self-control and poor listening skills.  The student is essentially on high alert at all times which might work well in a boxing rink or basketball court but can be very problematic in a classroom.

What are some of the causes of toxic stress among school age children and is there a solution? Researchers know that chronic neglect or abuse in the home can cause toxic stress. But there are also other more subtle causes of toxic stress like ongoing marital strife between parents, chronic maternal depression, and very toxic we now know, poverty.  So what are the solutions to reducing stress for our children? Fortunately, they are more available than one might think.

  1. Supportive role models and environments: Psychologists have found that access to at least one supportive adult in a child’s environment can markedly reduce the effects of toxic stress. That can be a coach, a relative, a religious figure or, in many cases, a teacher. In fact, if you talk to successful adults who had very difficult or stressful childhoods, or who overcame extreme poverty, they will often single out a teacher or two who served as role models, inspirations and supporters.

But not only can a supportive teacher provide a relief from toxic stress – the school itself can provide a safe haven as long as the child feels protected and respected.  For that to occur, the student needs to be successful at learning, which is not easy for many students from unstable or low socioeconomic status environments.  However, several available methodologies are at hand to turn struggling learners into successful ones.

  1. Adopt a growth mindset: We have learned that when students believe that intelligence is not fixed but rather ‘smarts’ can develop through the process of learning, called a “growth mindset”, achievement is significantly accelerated.
  2. Relax: There is emerging evidence that brief periods of relaxation, meditation or yoga can relieve stress and have a positive effect on learning.
  3.  Build Cognitive and Literacy Skills: Finally, there are neuroscience-designed interventions that research indicates can specifically target and build those regions of the brain known to be important for learning, resulting in dramatic improvements in academic success.

Taking Part: Multicultural Festival

We at Parker Academy are always looking for new ways to reach out to families to include them in our adventures and successes. This is our second installment of ‘Taking Part’ in our 2018-2019 year and we hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

Parker Academy students have been creating signage for the many countries being represented at the festival. They will learn about a location’s racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity as they volunteer for this Multicultural event. These beautiful country signs and tent menus will adorn the sidewalks and allow visitors to visually understand aspects of each culture via their art work.
The Multicultural Festival takes place on September 23rd from 11AM-4PM on the State House lawn for an amazing day of cultural diversity along with a showcase of all their hard work!
Multicultural Festival: Our mission is to create a Welcoming Community for all by fostering a culture of appreciation for diversity, providing engaging learning opportunities, and empowering new Americans with opportunities to successfully integrate and be part of our community.
The Festival is a celebration of all cultures, featuring 4+ hours of entertainment performed by local musicians and dancers, more than 20 food vendors selling delectable cuisine from their home countries, local artists selling their unique crafts, traditional arts demonstrations, activities for all ages, an international flag parade with more than 40 countries represented, and so much more.

Taking Part: Day of Caring

We at Parker Academy are always looking for new ways to reach out to families to include them in our adventures and successes. This is our first installment of ‘Taking Part’ in our 2018-2019 year and we hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

Parker Academy took part in Granite United Way‘s ‘Day of Caring’ this morning. They tackled five different locations to make a difference in their community! From painting a building, removing brush or picking up litter, these kids put their all into the tasks at hand. #dayofcaring2018