Little Kids Rock - Transforming children's lives

by Little Kids Rock, Inc.
Vetted
Music Inspires
Music Inspires

Do you ever wish you could communicate with someone without using words? Talk telepathically, or have a conversation with your eyes?

At Little Kids Rock, we believe that this is possible when you understand the language of music and the art of the jam. To be able to jam, to make music with another human being without reading sheet music or practicing prior, is a great feeling and can have a very positive impact on people, especially children. Various studies have shown that music instruction enhances reading and cognitive development in addition to spatial-temporal development (more on the importance of music here.

With a recent donation of an electric guitar and drum kit to a New York City public school Little Kids Rock class, 10-year-olds Dwayne (drums) and Peter (guitar) decided to communicate. Dwayne starts a beat and Peter mimics it with his guitar.

“I am only playing 2 chords and having so much fun!” exclaims Peter.

Isn’t it amazing the way they can create music together, in harmony, without any practice or exchange of words? How they crescendo and decrescendo based on their facial expressions? The way they engage by listening to one another? They are building something together – the beginning of a song. They are creating music, having fun, learning, and deepening their relationship, all without words.

This video is a powerful testament to how music can be a language unto itself that spans race, religion, social status, gender, age and many more boundaries that are present in our world. The art of the jam is one that can bring people together, and this art form, as Dwayne and Peter have shown, is not difficult to learn.

If two children can jam happily together in school, then the future of our world is looking brighter than ever.

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They say that those who can’t do, teach. We don’t agree. In fact, neither do the Grammy’s. That’s why each year, they undergo  exhaustive selection process to choose one music teacher in the United States to receive the Grammy Music Educator Award. The Grammy Music Educator award was established in 2013  to recognize music teachers ranging from kindergarten to college who made a significant impact and contribution to music education.

Other than learning that one of your students was nominated for a Grammy, for a music teacher, being nominated for a Grammy honoring their work to transform children’s lives is one of the best feelings in the world. 213 quarterfinalists hailing from 194 schools in 42 states made the cut, and among them are seven Little Kids Rock teachers!

 

Meet Catherine:

At Park Place Middle School, an empty music classroom waits to be used to it’s full potential. Principal Glenda Esperance wants to expand the music program, but with a small budget for more resources and no music teacher to build the curriculum, she didn’t know where to begin. That is, until she hired Catherine Plichta. Catherine Plichta

Catherine began her tenure as the music teacher at Park Place Middle School and had a blank canvas to work with, as far as the music program was concerned. Her first step was to find new and more resources. From her student teaching, she learned about nonprofit organizations and philanthropic companies that she could contact, like Little Kids Rock, Amp Up NYC (Little Kids Rock’s partnership initiative with Berklee College of Music), VH1 Save The Music, Sam Ash, and others who would donate instruments and other resources to her school.

Once her classroom was stocked with musical instruments, she did something radical, with her principal’s support, that would change the school for every 6th-8th grade student. She made music a requirement for all 140 students. Catherine formed six orchestras, three bands, two rock bands, a choir and even a musical theater class, all of which were available to her students. All of Catherine’s students perform in either band or orchestra, plus any of the other ensembles she offers. Many of her students play multiple instruments in different ensembles, an amazing feat for a middle school music program in its first year.

Catherine’s colleagues were shocked by the level of change she was able to forge over the course of just one year. She even inspired administrators and teachers to learn instruments and play with their students during their concerts! However, more so than the way she transformed her school and her colleagues, Catherine’s music program has transformed her students’ lives. Since Catherine has drawn the music out of her students, other teachers have seen drastic behavioral changes in many of them, like a greater sense of responsibility, better focus, and even more respect.

One of her favorite parts about her job is using the power of music to reach the skeptical students and truly transform their lives by unlocking their inner music makers. When she sees them beaming from the stage at their school concerts, she feels a sense of pride that she says is indescribable.

The pinnacle of her first year at Park Place Middle School was when she secured the opportunity for her students to record “America” with Gloria Estefan for the Macy’s 4th of July Spectacular. Not only did her students get to meet a legendary recording artist but they also got the chance to record in a professional recording studio! The experience is one that her students will carry with them for the rest of their lives. 

Though Catherine has only been at Park Place Community Middle School for one year, she has decorously been nominated for the Grammy Music Educator Award. Catherine believes that this national award brings attention to music educators who don’t get enough credit for the work that they do, especially since their programs are usually the first to be cut. She is truly honored and humbled by the nomination, especially because it is for doing something that she is so passionate about – changing kids’ lives via music.

“Even if I won the lottery,” she says, “I would still come to work everyday to teach music.”

Written by: Natalie Morrison

Links:

They say that those who can’t do, teach. We don’t agree. In fact, neither do the Grammy’s. That’s why each year, they undergo  exhaustive selection process to choose one music teacher in the United States to receive the Grammy Music Educator Award. The Grammy Music Educator award was established in 2013  to recognize music teachers ranging from kindergarten to college who made a significant impact and contribution to music education.

Other than learning that one of your students was nominated for a Grammy, for a music teacher, being nominated for a Grammy honoring their work to transform children’s lives is one of the best feelings in the world. 213 quarterfinalists hailing from 194 schools in 42 states made the cut, and among them are seven Little Kids Rock teachers!

 

Meet John:

Lights, Camera, Action! The curtain rises and onstage stands Sharkapella, an a cappella group made up of high school students who regularly return to Franklin L. Williams Middle School to work with their former middle school teacher, John Flora. They are poised and ready to blow the crowd away with their incredible voices. John smiles proudly from a distance as his current middle school students watch their old classmates with admiration. 

John has been a Little Kids Rock teacher for seven years, and the fact that former students come back to middle school to work with him and mentor younger students speaks volumes to the sense of community he has created in the school’s music room. Each week, John teaches 30 classes of general music, but after school is when he shines. He teaches Modern Dance and Choir, and Modern Band, both after school and every morning before school for anyone who can attend, and many do attend year after year!

John uses his before and after school programs to give students an opportunity to lead the class, putting them at the center of their own learning experience. He also coined the term “de-rock-racy,” encouraging students to have a say in what music they learn. Each student gets hands-on experience with instruments, often rotating around the classroom so that all kids have the chance to learn multiple instruments.  

Inspiration is never lacking in his class, and his drive to succeed comes from his kids. “I grew up with a father who was a musician,” he says. “Whenever people ask me what instrument I play, I say ‘music teacher’ and my instrument is ‘my students.’” John feels like the bridge between the students and everything that Little Kids Rock has provided for him.  

Being nominated for the Music Educator of the Year Award for the second year in a row is a gratifying feeling for John, but he is more honored that the Grammys have established this award to honor the profession than he is to be recognized himself. “The government should look at the model The Grammys have set up and give more recognition,” he says. “Have a Grammy for nurses and other teachers! This raises the bar. It makes you put more pride and quality into your work.”

Watching his students grow from the beginning of the year to the end of the year and throughout their primary and secondary education is the icing on the cake. He sees the impact music has on his kids and that makes his job the best in the world!

Written by: Natalie Morrison

Links:

Photo Credit: Mark Jaworski
Photo Credit: Mark Jaworski

Strike a Chord

Imagine that you have the unenviable task of deciding which program to cut from your child’s school. Which do you choose?

More often than not, to the dismay of parents and teacher, the answer is music and/or arts programs.

“83% of teachers and 73% of parents say budget cuts in music education are detrimental to students?” On May 19, 2015, the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (NAMM) and Grunwald Associates LLC, released a new report surrounding the hopes and beliefs parents and teachers have about music education.

One of their key findings shows that parents and teachers want to cut virtually every other program more than music and arts. But what does that really mean?

In a survey, teachers and parents were asked: Assuming a limited budget and the need for cuts, which program would you be most willing to cut from your child’s school? Please rank the following items from 1-15 with “1” being the one you’re most willing to cut and “15” being the one you’re least will to cut.

The results put music and arts education in the top 3 of programs they are LEAST willing to cut with an average score of 10.35 out of 15 by teachers and 9.78 out of 15 by parents. From the group of teachers and parents polled 76% of teachers and 64% of parents say the funding for their music and arts programs is adequate or worse, which can be detrimental to students.

After learning about these statistics, we took a look at how Little Kids Rock’s Modern Band program affected the students at PS 103 in Bronx, NY. Music teacher Amy Giangrasso says, “Opportunities like Little Kids Rock are life altering for these kids. It gives them a sense of pride, belonging to a social group and awakens a part of them that would never have been explored.”

Another teacher, Curtis Johnson from Paul Cuffe MST Academy in Chicago said, “Since [partnering with] Little Kids Rock, the Principal has learned that the students and parents want to see more funding and support for music in our school.”

So what can you do to help?

Donate Now!  A gift of just $25 creates a new spot in a music class that will benefit a new child each year.

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Little Kids Rock students!
Little Kids Rock students!

“Hold onto me, never let go… I’ll be here by your side, every second of our time. Hold onto me, never let go.”

14-year old Yancy wrote these lyrics in hopes that her song would save the life of Marcus Kanye, a young man who had developed a life-threatening disease. Even though she had never met her mother’s coworker, Yancy felt a unique connection to Marcus and wanted to give him hope.

“I felt sympathy toward him and just wanted to help,” she said. “I had faith and wanted him to feel better and brighten his spirit. The best way to do this was through music because it has a big impact on people and acts as a medicine for the human spirit.”

Music is a gift, and Yancy sees it as her responsibility to share that gift with the world. Once her third grade Little Kids Rock teacher introduced music into her life at PS. 98 in Inwood, Manhattan, Yancy not only found her voice.

“I remember the first time I practiced the song, there was one lyric that hit me emotionally,” she explains. “My voice sank as I struggled to utter the simple words: hold onto me, never let go… I’ll be here by your side, every second of our time…”

As each day passed, Yancy checked in with her mom, eager to learn about Marcus’s health. As Marcus suffered, losing weight, his vision and even his hearing, Yancy practiced.

“He was on my mind every second, and I wanted every chord and every lyric to be perfect,” Yancy said. “I tried to keep a positive attitude reminding myself that he was going to keep moving forward in life and be OK.”

Yancy’s mother recorded the song and sent it to Marcus’s family, unsure if he would even be able to hear the song that her daughter had poured out of her heart. It lifted his family’s spirits in his final days, and left a permanent mark on their hearts.

Marcus passed away shortly thereafter, and though he was not able to escape his illness, the song had a profound effect on Marcus and his family. They were touched that a little girl whom they had never met had shown so much compassion. “I’m just glad that he was able to hear the song before he passed away,” Yancy said.

Music did not save Marcus’s life, but it changed Yancy’s. It allowed her to externalize feelings of sorrow and confusion that filled her heart and taught her that though her song was not medicine for the body, it indeed was medicine for the human spirit – others’ and her own.

Your donation helped change thousands of lives like Yancy's all across the country. Little Kids Rock is serving over 180,000 students in 29 cities....now that's a lot of Rock and Roll! Thank you!

 

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Organization Information

Little Kids Rock, Inc.

Location: Verona, New Jersey - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.littlekidsrock.org
Project Leader:
Sandi Zellner
Verona, New Jersey United States

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