Sunday, March 17, 2013

My first byline in Huffington Post!

Published in Huffington Post on March 16, 2013

This article garnered some nice attention in its original placement in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media on March 7, 2013. I was very pleased to see Huffington Post pick it up from there: 

Photo by Erik Holladay, 

This article originally appeared in Southwest Michigan Second Wave.
A kid who would give up recess to make time for another lesson? Never happen.

At Woods Lake Elementary at 3215 Oakland Drive, in the Kids in Tune program, however, that is precisely what did happen. And not just one child made such a choice, but 79 children voted to extend their music lessons rather than go outside to play.

For them, Kids in Tune is play. These children play musical instruments for two-and-a-half hours, four days of the week, as part of the Kids in Tune program, a collaboration of Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS), Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra and Communities in Schools (CIS) of Kalamazoo. An after-school program launched in the fall of 2011, Kids in Tune is built on the Venezuelan philosophy known as El Sistema, founded by Dr. José Abreu.

"I saw a YouTube video of an orchestra of young people from all walks of life playing instruments, and I started to think about how to reach people in our community," says Elizabeth, or Liz, Youker, education director at Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra and founder of Kids in Tune. "Music changes lives."

Youker found the partners she needed in Woods Lake Elementary, a Magnet Center for the Arts, where she worked with Rachel Boomsma, senior site director for Communities in Schools, to put the music program together.

"It's an extraordinary meld with CIS," says Youker. "The wonderful thing about working with CIS is that we can surround the kids with a web of support, helping them develop social and academic skills along with musical skills. There's a lot of interest now in the concept of resilience, how that's needed in life, and it's fairly inherent in music."

"Resilience is built into music study," echoes Boomsma, who is a thesis shy of her master's degree in music therapy. "Music is fun, but it's also hard work. You have to keep doing it, practice and push through, even when you are good at it."
Children pop in and out of the classroom at Woods Lake Elementary, and they ask Youker and Boomsma about their instruments, about practice sessions, about the recital coming up the next day, when they will perform for their families and other community members. The flow of activity is bustling and constant.

Five hundred children attend Woods Lake Elementary, and the capacity for the Kids in Tune program is 100 with plans to expand. "In terms of demographics," says Boomsma, "about 84 percent are eligible for free or reduced cost lunches. We identify the kids with a strategic need for this program, those who are least likely to have access to music but need it the most."

"The instruments are for the most part made available through grant funding," says Youker. "Some instruments come from KPS, and we will always accept donations."

The walls of the room are lined with instruments. Junior-sized cellos, violins, flutes and clarinets, percussion instruments lined up neatly, waiting to be taken up in the next child's hands. The children, kindergarten through fifth graders, take their chosen instrument and head down the hall to another room for rehearsal. Kids in Tune has started with strings, but the plan is eventually to include all the instruments that comprise an orchestra--even harps, Youker says a little dreamily.

Kids in Tune is music and far more than music. The program includes hot meals and transportation, academic tutoring, group lessons and one-on-one sessions, choir, dance, and the occasional field trip to hear the professionals perform.

"Money can be an obstacle to the arts, of course," says Youker, "but kids can be dealing with all kinds of obstacles, like getting a ride, or just finding the space at home to practice."
"Parents love this opportunity, much more than any other program we've offered," adds Boomsma. "We've actually met ...."

To view more of the wonderful photos by Erik Holladay with the original article and video, visit Second Wave. 

Parents are called in for 

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