By Vernell Hackett
NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - "Music City" school children will soon learn how to rap, rock and spin.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean used the city's famed Ryman auditorium on Friday to announce new offerings next year in songwriting, rock band and hip-hop performance, and recording and disc jockey remixing.
"Nashville is blessed with a tremendous infrastructure of creators of music, more than any city in America, and we need to take advantage of that. This will give us the opportunity to leverage those resources," Dean said.
Tennessee schools, which have ranked near the bottom among U.S. states on standardized test scores, have made strides recently in test scores and graduation rates.
The state's schools are among the recipients of $500 million grants from the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" competition.
Nashville schools aim to introduce the expanded music curriculum in elementary and middle schools next year, and in high schools the following year.
Besides the contemporary offerings, it aims to enhance existing programs such as band, orchestra and choir.
Some country music celebrities have contributed in the past to music education in Nashville, a recording center and home to many of the genre's top stars. Keith Urban is a supporter of the W.O. Smith School, providing musical instruments and lessons. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum sponsors a program that pairs students with songwriters.
In many of the nation's public school systems, the arts and music are often the first to be eliminated by budget cuts.
"As a mother of a child in elementary school and one in middle school, I have seen a decrease in music instruction. This would definitely fill a void," parent Carole Edwards said.
Edwards said she hoped all musical genres would be taught, with an emphasis on country and Christian music which both have a big presence in Nashville.
Teacher Mendy Coe said her pre-kindergarten class is exposed to jazz, blues, rock and roll, old television theme songs, hip-hop, rap, country, classical and folk music.
Some parents said academics needed help, as well.
"I wish they would work at improving the entire curriculum to make it more exciting," Peggy Tunnell said. "I'm not opposed to music education at all, but when they are already trimming the education budget, it just seems that there might be a better way to utilize funds."
Nathan Meckel, who has two children in school, said teaching all types of music was welcome, and would help keep children engaged. But he said academics suffered because nine of the 12 children in one of his child's classes were not able to speak English proficiently.
"The kids who are there to learn are not getting the benefits that they deserve," Meckel said.
Supporters said academic performance improves among students who receive music instruction.
"There have been many studies over the years that confirm that music education enhances learning and students who take music courses out-perform those who do not," said Nancy Shapiro, who chaired a committee that ushered in the program.
"It elevates test scores, helps students improve their memory and lowers the dropout rate. It also helps increase a students' mental flexibility and reasoning skills, which helps them in their ability to solve math and science problems," she said.
Dr. Jesse Register, director of Nashville's public school system, said some funding for the program will come from the private sector, including Curb Records founder Mike Curb, Gibson Guitar Corp's charitable foundation, and business conglomerate executive Martha Ingram.
(Editing by Andrew Stern)