Music isn t just some high school elective for Jonna O Keefe - it s an essential.

Music to me is like breathing to you, said the North Kitsap High School 10th grader.

So, when O Keefe saw her music classes getting cut as a 7th grader, it felt like she was suffocating. Music means so much to O Keefe that 3 years ago she ran for middle school treasurer, naively thinking somehow she could influence her school s budget. Little did she know she d end up being right.

While O Keefe couldn t stop the cuts at her middle school, she set her sights on something bigger. A neighbor told her about a proposal to establish a special license plate where the proceeds would go to fund school music programs across the state.

O Keefe testified before the state legislature last year in support of the Music Matters plates.

I was the only kid who testified in Olympia, she said. I told them music is important for every child in Washington. It helps you make friends. Studies even show it helps you do better in math.

The bill passed, and now that money is building like a crescendo. The organization Music Aid Northwest plans to distribute about $40,000 in license plate revenue to six school music programs by the end of the year.

The group estimates that Washington music classes have been scaled back about 10 percent since 2008. O Keefe s school is receiving $6,500 to buy new instruments and repair old ones.

It s a giant sigh of relief, said the school s music director Bryce Adams. He credits O Keefe s work with breathing new life into the program.

The music students here have a maturity, a dedication and a passion I ve never seen in my life. it s truly overwhelming, said Adams.

As for O Keefe, she can breathe a bit easier now, knowing her passion being preserved. I think it s pretty awesome, she said. I feel like I accomplished my goal.

You can find more information about the license plate program and how your school can apply for a grant by visiting www.musicaidnorthwest.org

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