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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, October 08, 2017 1:00 am

'Learning to play, and playing to learn'

Chuck Surack

Fort Wayne Community Schools has always had a strong music program. That was true when I went to Wayne High School, and it's just as true today.

Even through tough times requiring tough decisions, Superintendent Wendy Robinson has continued to maintain the quality and the reach of music in her schools. She understands that music students have higher grades and test scores, including SAT scores, better attendance, lower incidence of negative behavior such as drug use, and a higher rate of graduation, both in high school and college.

Her leadership in this area is perhaps one of the many reasons she was just named Indiana Public Schools Superintendent of the Year. Congratulations, Dr. Robinson!

Now, she and others – the Fort Wayne Community Schools Foundation, a national foundation called Little Kids Rock and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic – are working to take music education at FWCS to a whole new level.

The goal of three entirely new programs – none of which overlap, but provide unique approaches to music education – is to significantly increase the number of students involved in music by removing any barriers that might exist, such as the cost of owning or renting an instrument. Equally important, two of these programs bring innovative new approaches that will attract a broader range of students.

I recently announced Sweetwater's national sponsorship of Little Kids Rock, a nationwide foundation providing schools with its “Modern Band” program, a culturally responsive approach to music education that allows students to see themselves, their culture and their community reflected in their school music program. Students learn by playing, performing, and composing the music they know and love, be it rock, pop, R&B, hip-hop or other popular music styles. Instruments include drums, guitar, bass guitar, ukulele and keyboards, in addition to vocals. Modern Band has been introduced in six FWCS elementary schools, with more to follow.

A crucial element of the program is teacher training in the Modern Band curriculum, as well as Little Kids Rock's donation to each school of the instruments and resources necessary to teach popular music in a way that empowers students to experience instant achievement.

This fall, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic's Club Orchestra program will begin a partnership with three FWCS elementary schools: Forest Park, Waynedale and South Wayne.

Club Orchestra, known as Club O, is designed to address academic underachievement in younger elementary students.

The vehicle is simple: Provide children the opportunity to learn how to play stringed instruments, which are provided for free, while instilling confidence, discipline, self-esteem, effective team-work and other life skills.

The third program is called “b instrumental,” run by the Fort Wayne Community Schools Foundation, which is working to raise $3 million to purchase 5,000 band and orchestra instruments over the next few years.

The instruments will be provided free to students in middle and high schools districtwide.

In August, my wife Lisa and I were proud to make a $500,000 challenge pledge to the campaign, as well as donating 100 instruments that will quickly allow three middle schools to be added to the five schools already participating.

These instruments will go to students whose parents cannot afford to rent or own them, and will add to, not simply replace, the existing stock of instruments owned by the district. So far – and the program was launched just a few semesters ago – we have about 175 additional students involved in the“b instrumental program.”

We expect that number to grow to 300 during the spring semester and to 500 next fall.

Think about that. Five hundred students playing music who wouldn't otherwise have had the opportunity; 500 students engaged in an activity that promotes craftsmanship and creativity, teaches teamwork, builds confidence and self-esteem, relieves stress, and helps with memorization, concentration and math skills. And, when the campaign is successful, that 500 will become 5,000 students.

Music was central to my education at Wayne High School and gave me skills I've used throughout my personal and professional life. That's why I'm honored to support all three of these music education initiatives. I hope everyone in the community will help.

Encourage a child to take up an instrument and experience the joy and satisfaction of learning to play and playing to learn.