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When Education graduate student Dennis Creedon first decided to explore the arts with his eighth grade students 10 years ago, he did not realize he was setting the stage for what would develop into a nationally acclaimed education program called the Sounds of Learning. The program, run by the Opera Company of Philadelphia, is one of the first programs nationwide to incorporate academia with the arts in an effort to enhance student creativity and enliven their imaginations. As a classroom teacher, Creedon -- who suffers from dyslexia -- noticed that many of his students were experiencing the same learning problems he faced as a child. Creedon explained that since the arts helped him cope with his literacy difficulties, he developed many of his teaching techniques through examining the arts. Creedon initially took his students to see ballet and orchestra performances, but was not sure how his students would react to opera since the shows are often long and in a different language. When he took his students to see Madame Butterfly, however, it touched the students so much that a few of them cried. Seeing this positive reaction, Creedon decided to incorporate many of the opera's themes into his classroom syllabus. The play coincided with social studies lessons on World Wars I and II, and Japanese culture in the opera also related to their studies. "The opera helps the students understand certain aspects of world history and makes it interesting for them," Creedon said. When the Opera Company of Philadelphia learned about Creedon's innovative approach to teaching, they asked him for his lesson plans. The company eventually turned Creedon's lessons into a city-wide program, combining the material into an 88-page lesson book. Actively engaging the students, the book offers projects such as maps, costume designing and diaries. "Students become agents in learning rather than passive recipients," said Creedon, who added that the material outlined in the program's lesson plan is in accordance with the Philadelphia School Board's core curriculum. "Opera is a window for students to explore the core curriculum on the schedule," Creedon said. "It is easier for students to learn because they enjoy the material." Accomplishing its goal to "make learning fun," more than 40,000 Philadelphia-area students have participated in Sounds of Learning during its six years of existence. Schools pay no fee to participate in the program but require additional time from the teachers to develop the lesson plans. Students study from the book three weeks before they see the opera and then spend another week reviewing the material. The program is open to students ages 10 through 18 and also works with an adult literacy program.

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