Have you experienced any unexpected barriers, challenges, or successes in taking your first steps?
I felt like this was the best question for us to address with our first e-journal reflection. As we have launched the Music Matters! program at Agnes Stewart Middle School in partnership with the Shedd Institute, we have experienced all of these things—barriers, challenges, and successes.
One of the largest barriers of this partnership is the school schedule and how rigid it has to be to fit within the larger frame of the school’s master schedule. For example, we have been able to bring in small group instructors from the Shedd to instruct our band and orchestra students in specific instruments. This is one of the highlights of our program and what we believe will make the most impact in developing lifelong musicians. However, with the schedule we are confined to at the school, band is taught 1st, 3rd, and 6th period. This makes it difficult for the instructors who are coming quite a distance to the school and then having large periods of time between teaching their small groups. This barrier has made the recruitment of instructors more challenging and has led us to be more creative about how we are scheduling the instructors.
Another barrier would be the physical space that we have available for the small group instruction. We have had to shuffle other programs and systems around to ensure that there is a place, in close proximity to our certified band/orchestra teacher, in which these small groups can receive their instruction. We have been able to overcome this barrier, but it took some work.
I would say that the biggest challenge has come in trying to take two different systems, that traditionally function in two very different “worlds”, and trying to bring them together. It has been more challenging than I expected, yet I believe that we are both better off for the work that we are doing. Communication between two very busy organizations and working through this very new way of doing business has been challenging. Luckily for us, we have incredible partners in the Shedd Institute and feel incredibly blessed to be the recipients of their expertise and talents.
The second challenge that I will mention here has been working through the financing. The difficulty came in having the Shedd be the financial agent of the grant, then trying to pay for substitute teachers, school related supplies, school transportation, etc. We were able to put part of the funds in a special school district account to make this process easier for all involved.
The final challenge that we will mention here has been simply getting the program off of the ground. We really came in to the year with a lot of enthusiasm and visioning about where we could end up. However, there is a lot of ground work and system building that needs to take place before we can get there. We quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to move as quickly as we would have liked in order to establish a sustainable system. So we have had to be patient, but are already seeing the fruits of our labors.
I am not sure where to start. In these short few months, we have really enjoyed seeing music play a more important role in the lives of our students.
The first success that I will mention here is the family involvement that has occurred. We started the program with a family information and survey night to try and get them excited about the grant, but also provide us with information as to where they would like the grant to go and what types of programs they would like to see. We had facilitators work with small tables of families to try to capture information about their interests—both for student classes that could be offered after school, as well as for the performances and programs that we will bring in for our families. This step in the process really provided our families with some ownership of the grant and gave us important information to help us plan as we have moved forward.
The second success (of many) would be the exposure that our families and students have already received to music and art that they would not have had before. This began with our Open House and Family BBQ this year. The Shedd was able to provide a quartet that played live music during the BBQ, helped us to celebrate the grant, and exposed our families to some phenomenal jazz music—gave them a brief taste of what was to come during the next five years. Then we had our first community performance. The Shedd brought the group, Caribbean Archipelago, to ASMS and they provided our families and community with an outstanding one hour concert. It was an eye-opening experience for me to realize how important this part of the grant is for our community. From the reaction of our families, it was evident that they do not have a lot of experience attending live music. I was so excited that this grant was providing these opportunities for our kids, our families, and members of our community to have access to great music that they would not have had access to in the past.
The final success that I will mention here is the work that the Shedd instructors are doing with our small groups of kids in providing them with specific instruction in the instruments that they are playing in the band and orchestra. It has been fun to watch the students as they gain more confidence and love for their specific instrument as they participate in these small group lessons and have the opportunity to work with professional musicians. I believe that this will make an enormous difference in our program.
The last few months have been a period of enormous growth and we are excited to see what the future holds. We can not thank OCF enough for making this possible.
This submission made by Jeff Fuller, principal at Agnes Stewart Middle School. Reflection was created after discussion with Ginevra Ralph, project lead from the Shedd Institute, and Dana Demant, ASMS band and orchestra teacher.