Music therapy program a teaching tool for kids with disabilities

A music therapy program that helps special needs students who learn differently could be on the chopping block for the 2017-18 school year if funding to continue the program at three St. Johns County schools is not secured by July 1.


Sound Connections currently delivers music therapy several times a week to about 200 students across four elementary schools in the Ponte Vedra Beach area: Cunningham Creek, Ocean Palms, Valley Ridge and PVPV/Rawlings.

The sessions are built into the school day, although the program and its music therapists are run and paid for through The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides arts enrichment to the community. Sound Connections was launched in 2006 at Cunningham Creek, a hub school for kids with learning disabilities and developmental issues, to get through to those students in a way that regular classroom instruction sometimes cannot.

But if the budget shortfall is not met soon, the supplemental program will only continue at Cunningham Creek, leaving as many as 100 students without its services. About half of the total contacts it makes with students are at Cunningham Creek; the other half are split across the other three schools. The deficit exists outside of the state education budget since as a separate nonprofit entity, the Cultural Center is funded mainly through government grants, charitable foundations and private benefactors.

The music therapy program has an annual operating budget of $106,000 — the majority of which goes toward Cunningham Creek, and that funding is not in jeopardy for next year. But the Cultural Center must raise at least another $50,000 in order to pay for salary and equipment costs to continue to send a music therapist to the other three schools.

The arts organization expanded Sound Connections to the other Ponte Vedra elementaries two years ago, seeing an increased need for the kind of sensory-based therapy that studies show can promote learning and skill acquisition, as well as social development, in challenged students like those on the autism spectrum.

According to Leigh Rodante, program director for The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach, music is processed by a different area of the brain than speech and language; hence, a child may be able to more easily absorb information and skills presented with music.

While the program has been a success, Rodante said, “Each year we have to worry about funding it for the next year, because we are reliant on different outside sources than a school district.”

Donna Guzzo, director of development for the Cultural Center, said the funding deficit must be met by July 1 so that teachers can work the music therapy sessions into students’ schedules.

To that end, the Persbacker-Wyman Family Foundation, which serves on the board of the Cultural Center, has pledged that for any donation over $50, it will match the gift, dollar for dollar, up to $25,000. To make a donation, visit or email Guzzo at