The Republic | azcentral.com Mon Jan 7, 2013 8:50 AM

Longtime Mesa music teacher Joanne Jolee observed a connection between piano lessons and children’s academic improvements long before the subject became fashionable.

“I observed it in my own children,” said Jolee, who lives in northeast Mesa and home-schooled her children more than a decade ago. Piano and music lessons were part of their daily program.

Last year, the College Board released a study, “Child Development and Arts Education: A review of Current Research and Best Practices” that linked arts-based learning including music with academic skills such as long-term memory, reading fluency, creative thinking and writing fluency.

Also recently, researchers at Florida International University published a study that showed that children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder concentrate better on homework if they listen to music while doing their work.

Jolee and her husband Bill Jaffa, an accountant and former Mesa City Council member, recently launched the Jolee-Jaffa Music Foundation with the goal of making music education available to more children, especially low-income Mesa residents.

“The foundation is the culmination of my life’s work as a musician and music teacher,” said Jolee, who studied at Trinity College of Music and Royal School of Music in London.

“I have been passionate about music since my first piano lesson at age 8, and for 30 years I have observed the effects of music on my students and audiences,” she added. “I’ve reached a point in my life where I have the time and energy to expand my efforts, and I want to reach as many people as possible.”

Jolee said the foundation has applied for 501(c)(3) non-profit status and has an initial goal of raising $4,000 for music scholarships for low-income young people. The money could be used for instruments or study with private teachers.

The foundation intends to organize volunteers to speak to civic groups about the importance of music education both in and out of public schools.

“There has been a focus away from music education and physical education in the schools in recent years,” Jaffa said. “But these are the things that make kids more well-rounded.”

He and Jolee point to a 2010 Arizona Commission on the Arts survey that showed that 21 percent of Arizona public schools provide no regular arts or music classes.

“The answer is not to pull music,” Jolee said. “Music helps children mature.”

Although the foundation’s focus is not on music scholarships for adults, Jolee also encourages adults to pick up their old instruments from childhood — or the instrument they have always dreamed of playing — and play for 10 to 15 minutes a day.

Information: vwww.j-jmf.org or 623-208-6855.