BW Students Get SMART with Innovative Collaboration that Blends Music and Literacy

January 22, 2013

The SMART program, a completely student-run initiative at Baldwin Wallace, is gaining national attention as an innovative literacy program.

By Jenna Burnett '15

SMART, Shaping Music And Reading Together, uses musical activities to improve reading skills in young children. A collaboration between the Music Education and Music Therapy departments of BW, the program’s mission is “to strengthen students’ reading fluency, social skills, and cultural diversity through a creative musical experience."

One element that makes the SMART Program so unique is that BW students are totally in charge. All decision-making and planning for the program is coordinated by the SMART Student Board, which meets weekly throughout the school year.

With comprehensive pre- and post-test results confirming that SMART works, the growing organization aims to double the number of participants for this summer’s program from its 2011 pilot.

Connecting Music and Reading

SMART, was founded by Justin Caithaml ’14 and Adam Sheldon ’11, MBA ’12. Sheldon was a senior at the time and Caithaml was just a freshman. Caithaml said, “The initial idea for the program came from wanting to take the BW Summer Music Programs, hosted here in June and July, on the road to other locations,” in order to make them more accessible to larger audiences.

Once the founding students started planning, they soon realized the best way to ensure the sustainability of their burgeoning program was to look at how music could heavily influence other academic areas. They chose to create a connection between music and reading fluency.

The students also looked at feedback from recent graduates who desired field experience in diverse environments, both urban and suburban, and structured their program accordingly. They partnered up with BW alumna, Dr. Sally Childs, the Fine Arts Supervisor at Akron Public Schools.

“She was eager to foster this partnership and was crucial in the success of our pilot program in the summer of 2011,” Caithaml said.

National Model

SMART received national recognition last summer with an invitation to present their program model at the National Music Education Week, sponsored by the National Association for Music Education in Baltimore.

Since then, SMART has received requests to make additional presentations throughout the year, including a national webinar hosted by the National Association for Music Education, a presentation at the American Music Therapy Association National Conference in Chicago, an interest session presentation at the Ohio Music Education Association State Conference in Columbus, and most recently a presentation at the Great Lakes Regional Music Therapy Convention in Columbus.

Looking to the Future

As the program moves into its third-year, SMART hopes to refine the established model. The SMART team is also looking at ways to align programming and curriculum with new mandates in literacy, including the new Ohio Third Grade Reading Guarantee. Caithaml said they are constantly looking for new leaders for their Student Board to ensure that the legacy of the program will carry on in future years.

Part of creating a lasting legacy includes solidifying funding partners for the future. The Margaret Clark Foundation joined as a major partner for this year’s program and Caithaml hopes to continue that alliance. To support this summer’s program in Akron, the organization is currently conducting a major capital campaign, which seeks to identify major donors interested in partnering with the SMART.

Summer of 2013 - “Music as the Language of Our World.”

The theme for this year’s program will be “Music as the Language of Our World.” Participating students will explore the music and literature of several diverse cultures. The program targets four specific elementary schools within the Akron Public Schools. Registration for the program is open to students who have completed second or third grade by the summer of 2013.

Over the last two summers, the SMART program has served about 90 students, 35 in the 2011 pilot program and 55 in the summer 2012 program. They anticipate about 80 students for this year’s program. “We are excited to see what the future holds,” Caithaml said.

Anyone interested in supporting the mission of the SMART organization is encouraged to send an email to or visit the SMART web page.