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PSO Explorers

Promoting early literacy through the language of music

This program is an excellent and exciting chance for students to be exposed to music. As a teacher I am always looking for the connection to the classroom learning and the PSO lessons are strongly connected to the classroom curriculum through thoughtful planning where the teachers input is taken at the highest regard.
-Megan McDonough, Reiche Teacher

Pairing professional musicians with early educators has been the key to fostering literacy through the PSO Explorers program. Joint-lesson planning between classroom teachers and PSO staff promotes engaging in-classroom connections between musicians and the program’s K-2nd grade students.

Explorers lessons open up new avenues for literary awareness in these early learners by leveraging phonological awareness, active listening, and other auditory elements that the languages of books and music share. PSO Explorers continues to advance this exciting new field of literacy-learning as an expression of the Symphony’s continued commitment to the Maine communities we are privileged to serve.


What population does PSO Explorers serve?

The PSO Explorers program was established in 2014 by the Portland Symphony as a vehicle to integrate classical music directly into the Portland Public School System. An application process to the program was opened to Portland Public Elementary Schools in 2013. The Reiche Elementary School was chosen based partly on teacher desire and motivation to partner in the program’s success and also its need: 43% of students are English Language Learners and 69% receive Reduced School Lunch – (16% higher than district average).


Explorers by the Numbers

PSO Explorers serves students at the Reiche Community School and Longfellow Elementary School with plans to expand the program by one grade each successive year until the program is active in Grades K-3 at both schools. This year, PSO Explorers is serving more than 500 school children at 2 schools with 25 public school teachers and employs 10 PSO professional Musicians who will teach more than 500 classroom lessons in the 19-20 school year.

What are the core components of PSO Explorers?

  • Arts integrated curriculum specifically designed for the classrooms that participate
  • Classroom materials for teachers and students including musical activities, instruments, props and other educational materials
  • Professional development for teachers
  • Ukulele lessons available to every classroom teacher at each school, not just those in the program
  • On-going evaluation and assessment by teachers, PSO staff/musicians, and third party consultants.

How does PSO Explorers work?

  • PSO staff and musicians meet with educators in the late summer to plan out a full year curriculum including music lessons designed to meet the curricular needs of the public school educators.
  • Each student experiences a live 30-minute lesson led by a PSO musician twice per month throughout the school year.
  • Materials and resources are provided to assist teachers in implementing PSO Explorers in the classroom. These materials may include simple instruments, digital music, and other resources including follow-up material such as worksheets and coloring pages.

Committed to Excellence

Ongoing evaluation and assessment

Teachers fill out brief feedback surveys for each lesson. All those involved with the program have an annual end of school year wrap-up session to assess and plan for the following year. The PSO Explorers program is loved by both educators and PSO musicians. In addition to routine classroom assessment work, the PSO is working with the Data Innovation Project to gain a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of the impact that the program has on students, musicians, and teachers.

Honor and Achievement

In 2015, the PSO Explorers team was awarded the Yale Distinguished Music Educators Award for their work at the Reiche School. PSO musicians and staff, the first class of Kindergarten teachers, and Reiche music teacher Alyson Ciechomski visited Yale University during the Music in Schools Symposium to receive this award.

The Explorers Team

2019-2020 PSO Explorers Teaching Artists

Program-wide curriculum coordinator

  • Lynn Hannings, PSO bass

Reiche Community School Kindergarten

  • Luis Ibáñez, PSO violin

Reiche Community First Grade

  • Barbara Paschke, PSO cello

Reiche Community School Second Grade

  • Joe Holt, PSO principal bass

Longfellow Kindergarten

  • Kim Lehmann, PSO viola
  • George Calvert, PSO assistant principal bass
  • Laurie Kennedy, PSO principal viola

Longfellow First Grade

  • Brian Thacker, PSO bass

Ukulele Instructor

  • Nina Miller, PSO horn


Explorers in the Press

The Portland Press Herald, Dec. 5, 2016 article and video: Portland Symphony Orchestra musicians enhance learning at Portland elementary schools By Bob Keyes, Staff Writer WCSH6, November 11th, 2016: PSO & Reiche School team up to improve literacy Caroline Cornish, WCSH 


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