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Notes from a musical nonprofit

Retired Los Angeles Unified School District teacher turns his musical talents toward helping others learn from song.

July 24, 2013|By Sara Cardine
  • Musician Tim Griffin at his La Caada Flintridge home office on Tuesday, July 23, 2013. The former educator is offering his educational music free to schools and to parents and children through his non-profit Griffin Education Solutions and website. Griffin does free live shows at schools and also offers free songwriting workshops.
Musician Tim Griffin at his La Caada Flintridge home office… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

Can harmonies help kids learn history? Can rhymes reinforce reading skills? Local educator and La Cañada resident Tim Griffin seems to think so.

A longtime Los Angeles Unified School District teacher with a proclivity for music, Griffin regularly wove music and performing arts into his lessons to grab students' attention and reinforce core content standards. He penned clever songs covering everything from the American Revolution to zoology.

Now he wants to share his talents, and the benefits of using the arts to aid learning, with others. Griffin recently retired from teaching to create a nonprofit that offers free song downloads, live performances and writing workshops to the public. Griffin Education Solutions aims to show that music helps kids learn and reaches students who may otherwise struggle with the curriculum.

"This is not just some kind of party trick. This really works," he explains. "It accesses parts of our brains that are actually older than our speech centers."

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The songs are similar to those "Schoolhouse Rock" standards that dominated Saturday morning TV lineups in the '70s and '80s and tackled subjects like grammar, social studies and math. Griffin's tune "Natural Selection," for example, contrasts the fates of two cheetahs, one fast and one slow:

Now everybody knows that every creature that's alive

Has one paramount priority and that is to survive

A cheetah that cannot run fast will never catch his lunch

While the faster cheetah gets gazelles and eats them by the bunch.

Anyone can listen to and download songs at Griffin's website, www.griffined.org. But now, through the nonprofit, teachers can request free, live classroom or school performances and songwriting workshops.

Anne Donnellan, a fourth-grade teacher at L.A. Unified's Kingsley Elementary School who also serves on the board of directors for Griffin Education Solutions, has seen firsthand the impact of this fresh approach. She was part of a study Griffin conducted to prove the program's efficacy and has piloted it with other teachers. They introduced a song with a discussion and played it for a week, adding background information as children listened, sang and clapped their way through the verses.

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