When Nadia Castagna, BS, MMEd arrived at The New England Center for Children® (NECC®) in 2018, her goal extended beyond the music curriculum she was tasked with teaching. An expert educator by trade, but a musician at heart, Castagna viewed music as a tool to connect individuals at NECC. “One of my goals when I came here was to establish a music community,” says Castagna “Over the last three years, I think I’ve done that.”
The COVID-19 pandemic did not make accomplishing that goal any easier. With her classes shifted to remote learning, Castagna was forced to adapt to the new conditions. Not only did she miss out on the in-person connections and communication with students and teachers, she also had to create lessons that could be accessible without the resources available in the music room at the school. Whereas at the school students have access to a wide array of musical instruments including keyboards, ukuleles, and drums, during remote learning they were limited to little beyond rhythm sticks.
Despite these challenges Castagna persevered, and, on Monday, April 26, 2021, students returned to the music room for in-person education. The music room that for the past year had grown silent, sprung back to life with the sound of students listening to and making music.
“I missed seeing everyone. Even though teachers told me that my lessons translated really well to remote learning, it still is better to have them back in the room with me,” she says.
When students returned to the music room, they were met with a continuation of the curriculum Castagna has put in place since the onset of the pandemic. For the past 13 months, students have “travelled” around the world by learning about music from different countries.
“Between staff and students, there are so many cultures here at NECC. I was inspired by this and wanted to create lessons that were relevant and also celebrated these cultures.”
For three weeks at a time, students learn about unique rhythms, traditional songs, and instruments native to a specific country. Units have included Ireland, Spain, and India. As Castagna notes, this new curriculum has been well-received by students.
“I had one student who just fell in love with music from India, to the point where they were seeking out music on their own time.”
As students and staff continue to readapt to in-person education, Castagna will continue to introduce new types of music to her NECC students. After finishing up the current unit on Romania, students will learn about China, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Mexico. Additionally, students can participate in after-school piano and chorus programs remotely. Altogether, from the unique lessons exposing students to different cultures, to helping students foster their music skills, Castagna continues to cultivate the music community she set out to create when she arrived.
“With a growth mindset and accessibility to the music curriculum, students are learning, experiencing, and growing as individuals as well as musicians. A quote that I wholeheartedly agree with and enjoy using is, ‘Some people only dream of meeting their favorite musicians, I teach mine.’ Hands down, I have the best job in the world.”
About The New England Center for Children
The New England Center for Children® (NECC®) is a private, nonprofit center providing evidence-based treatment and services for children with autism. Programs include in-home ABA therapy for infants and toddlers, a full-service day school for children age 4-22, and a safe, structured residential program that seamlessly integrates with the day school. NECC also oversees special education classrooms in public schools throughout New England and consults with families around the world. The technology division has patented its curriculum – the Autism Curriculum Encyclopedia® (ACE®) ABA Software System – which is used by more than 8,000 learners worldwide.
NECC is committed to diversity and staff professional development, partnering with local colleges to provide on-site graduate training and degrees at little to no cost to the NECC teacher. The result is a growing pool of exceptional teachers trained in best-in-class methodologies, whether they continue their careers at NECC or move on to public schools or private agencies. The New England Center for Children is based in Southborough, MA, and operates a center in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Learn more at www.necc.org.