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OMA Opens Minds!

Opening Minds through the Arts is a remarkable education program that uses arts integration to improve student achievement and school performance.

It began in Tucson in 2000 and has been so successful it is spreading to other school districts.

OMA started in the Tucson Unified Schoool District with a small group of concerned educators and community activists who were determined to improve teaching and bring fine arts back into the curriculum. An initial private donation enabled TUSD to set up a pilot program. A million-dollar federal grant, lots of community support in the form of OMA partners like the University of Arizona School of Music and Dance, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, and the Arizona Opera Company, and individual donors have enabled the program to continue and expand.

I was doing research for a column in the Arizona Daily Star about the lack of music education at home and in the schools when I learned about OMA. (Disclosure: when the column was published I was invited to join the OMA Foundation Board so I am a strong supporter of the OMA program.)

As part of my research, I was invited to an OMA school and what I saw blew me away. Here was an entire class of kids demonstrating what I call the three Essential E’s of education: Enthusiasm, Engagement, and high Expectations. If these E’s are present they turn an ordinary classroom into a learning place; if they are absent children do not achieve.

The children I saw were ENTHUSIASTIC about what they were doing. There was continuous and apparently enjoyable ENGAGEMENT between teacher and students. The teacher had high EXPECTATIONS that the students could and would learn.

OMA schools are special because each of these schools has a principal who is dedicated to OMA and committed to educational reform, an arts integration specialist who integrates the arts into the curriculum, and teaching artists trained in the OMA model to co-teach the students. Classroom teachers who embrace the integration of arts into the curriculum are key.

The OMA model is based on the neurological development of the brain and the curriculum advances as the children do. For example, kindergarteners work with a professional string trio or woodwind quartet to develop auditory acuity which helps them in language skills. First graders write their own opera promoting language acquisition and literacy development. In third grade all students learn to play the recorder and compose original music which assists them in the skills needed for reading and writing.

Built into the OMA grant were funds to measure the program’s effectiveness. After visiting an OMA school I was not surprised to learn that OMA does open minds!

Mean scores on standardized tests in reading, language and math were significantly higher in OMA students than in students at control schools without the OMA program. So we know OMA improves student achievement.

Hot-off–the-press data show that there are significantly higher math, reading, and writing scores in OMA schools. So we know OMA improves school performance.

These data have profound educational and social meaning. If this were a medical study that showed significant life-saving differences between patients given the treatment and the control patients who were not, doctors would stop the study so that everyone could have the treatment that helped. Medical ethics would demand this action.

Want to know more about OMA? Go to Perhaps you can interest your school district in working with the OMA Foundation to make the OMA miracle happen in your child’s school.