St. Johns County teacher motivates intellectually disabled children through music

Teaching through music

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Music in Minda Gordon’s classroom means more than songs and games.

“How good does it make you feel?” asked Action News Jax anchor Ben Becker.

“It makes my heart soar,” Gordon said. “This has been my calling since I was 16 years old.”

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Gordon has struck a chord with the exceptional student education program at Cunningham Creek Elementary School in St. Johns County.

“It’s a very special moment when I can sit down with a child and watch something happen in real time,” Gordon said.

Officials say 167 students with autism and Down syndrome, as well as those who are intellectually disabled or medically fragile, take part in the program funded by the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach.

The program uses music to help the social, emotional and physical needs of children, including a focus on language skills, color recognition, impulse control and following directions.

“Music is very motivating to children. What we know from research is that music impacts the brain and neurological development,” Gordon said.

There are more researchers studying the neurological effects of music now than ever before.

According to a recent paper for the academic journal Music and Medicine, from 1998 to 2008, there were only four media reports of evidence-based uses of music in research, while from 2009 to 2019 there were 185.

“Christmas is a wonderful time and being thankful and when Santa comes,” said Maxwell, who is in the program. “He will put presents under our Christmas tree.”