Posted on March 25, 2022 by Christopher Reichert


When researchers from the College of Education and Human Development first teamed up in the Fall of 2019 with Musical Bridges Around the World and UT Health San Antonio to study an educational program called Musical Sprouts, they couldn’t imagine the challenges and opportunities that awaited them. Musical Sprouts combines fine arts, cultural exchange, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) lessons for under-served elementary students in San Antonio.   

In partnership with Musical Sprouts, Belinda Bustos Flores , professor and associate dean of professional preparation and partnership; Becky Huang associate professor; and Kimberly Salazar , research assistant and master’s student in the Counseling Department, are investigating how the program has affected the cultural awareness, socioemotional wellness, and STEM learning outcomes of the participating students.   

Participating students are introduced to music, dances, and art from specific cultures and countries. From there, some have the chance to explore further in a series of lessons that integrate arts and culture with STEM concepts. For example, when students were studying Japan, they were able to use that country’s highspeed rail system to learn more about magnetism.   

Salazar, who joined the project in fall 2020, is especially passionate about the program.  

“I think a lot of the time arts are forgotten about or they’re less funded, just because people don’t see the value in the arts within a curriculum,” she said. 

“I think a lot of the time arts are forgotten about or they’re less funded, just because people don’t see the value in the arts within a curriculum,” she said.  

 She has been busy designing research and analyzing the team’s data, and says their findings indicate that integrating arts and STEM concepts has significant repercussions on the students’ knowledge and socioemotional learning, even for those students who only experienced the concerts.   

“Simply providing a concert of a given culture’s music seems to be enough to stimulate their knowledge,” she explained. And the results are even more pronounced for those students who do cover the STEM and culture lessons.  

“It’s definitely not surprising that these kids are really benefitting from the lessons and from the videos and activities,” she said. “It’s the ‘typically less interesting subjects’ of science and math, but it’s integrated in a way that’s interesting.”  

But the team’s research has not been without its challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic forced them to adapt their methods as classes became virtual and holding live concerts was no longer possible. Lesson content is accessible via eBooks which contain texts, videos, and experiential activities like crafts and foreign language vocabulary. For the Japan segment, Salazar said the team tried an even more hi-tech approach.  

“It was kind of like a PBS-style video lesson where there was a narrator and an animated character that she interacted with, and the kids really, really enjoyed that; they responded well to that segment and how it was structured,” she said.   

Even 2021’s infamous winter storm served to hamper the researchers, skewing their timeline and temporarily reducing the number of participants. However, virtualization has also made the researchers’ task easier. By transitioning to online surveys and tests, Salazar says she’s able to collect and process the data faster.   

Storms and pandemics have also been a trial for the teachers involved. At a time when many teachers have had to prioritize their students’ safety and wellbeing over their curriculum, Salazar says the last thing they want to do is overload teachers.  

“They seem to be excited that we’re giving this opportunity to their students, and we are grateful for that.” 

“They’re dealing with a lot right now – and for the foreseeable future will be dealing with a lot – but they’re doing great,” she said. “They seem to be excited that we’re giving this opportunity to their students, and we are grateful for that.”  

Musical Sprouts has also proven a vital educational resource for more sobering yet equally important subjects. When students watched the Musical Sprouts video, “Exploration of Ukraine,” nobody knew this Eastern European country would become the flashpoint for the largest military action in Europe since World War II. In the video, musician and luthier Jurij Fedynskyj sings traditional songs, talks about Ukrainian culture and history, and shows how he makes and plays a variety of Ukrainian folk instruments. But while Fedynskyj’s family is in the US, he has remained in Ukraine even as the Russian military pushes its advance.  

“It’s definitely a segue into talking about real-life events,” Salazar said, “and it's very unfortunate that this is what we have to talk about, but it gives our students an opportunity to expand their horizons and their worldviews and talk about those things…that was our intention in sending that out – we sent it to teachers and students, giving them the opportunity to have those tough conversations.”  

Back in San Antonio, Salazar hopes the program can continue to expand its reach and students’ horizons all over the country. One goal she and the team have is publishing the results of their research to solidify their work and raise awareness for such a program’s potential. This way, she hopes to begin bringing more attention (and funding) to arts education.  

“The goal is to make it so that arts and culture are held in the same regard or the same esteem as STEM,” she said. “Because fine arts is important – it teaches us creativity and it teaches us how to be resourceful. I think that would be awesome if we were able to integrate the arts and culture into everyday curriculum even more than it is now.”  

For more information on Musical Bridges and the Musical Sprouts program visit .  


-Chris Reichert

— Christopher Reichert