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Music Outreach Program Connects BC, Local Students

Heights Staff

Published: Thursday, December 12, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 12, 2013 03:12

For about 15 Boston College students, music has become a vehicle for connecting with nearly 60 children at the Gardner Pilot Academy—an opportunity developed by Barbara Gawlick, lecturer in the music department.

Gawlick is the program coordinator for the Music Outreach program, which teaches after-school music enrichment classes to local inner-city students. “We are doing a form of community service where we are bringing music to students who might not otherwise get the chance,” she said.

The program initially began when Gawlick received a grant in the fall of 2011 to teach an education through music class at BC for students interested in becoming music teachers. “I definitely wanted to make sure that students had hands-on activities like being in the classroom, potentially doing some teaching to whatever capacity they could do at this point,” she said.

Her students began teaching after-school music classes at Gardner Pilot School in Brighton and at the Thomas Edison School. Each week, five students would go to the schools to teach voice lessons and general music classes. When Gawlick discovered a closet filled with 10 brass instruments, she realized the need to expand the program.

The following fall, Gawlick opened up the program to other BC students in order to form the Music Outreach program. After receiving two grants, which she used to buy more musical instruments, Gawlick recruited 12 BC students to teach private music lessons at Gardner.

“I knew our neighbors in Allston and Brighton, part of Boston Public Schools, do not have a music program, so I was excited that our program would be augmented and more meaningful, for both BC students and the school’s [students],” Gawlick said. A greater emphasis was placed on the program at Gardner, since the Edison School already had a music program.

BC volunteers go to the school to teach once a week for one to two hours per lesson as part of a year-long commitment. With the program now in its third year, students teach about 60 children, with a BC music student at the school each day of the school week and multiple classes occurring on any given day. The lessons are either private or semi-private and happen on a weekly basis. The program has become so popular that a wait list and a lottery system have been implemented.

The Music Outreach program has even started an initiative at Brighton High School, where guitar and piano lessons are popular among students. The program grew rapidly from the start, so group guitar lessons were needed and taught by six BC students each week.

Gawlick also organizes various concerts at the two schools where BC ensembles usually preform. “These outreach concerts are integrated with their English curriculum, because they will be looking at some of those texts and the historical background of pieces and literary values,” she said. “My hope is to place more of our BC ensembles, whether large or small or even solos, into those schools where so little music is happening and we have so many fantastic resources … we want to give these students the chance to show others who might not have access to things like this.”

Gawlick and her husband Ralf, who also teaches classes at the schools, emphasize the importance of the relationships that are formed from these lessons aside from the musical teaching that takes place. “We are mentors—the relationship is so important for inner-city kids to interact with college students and moreover then the music teaching occurs,” Gawlick said.

“What we like to call it is, ‘Kids modeling for kids,’” Ralf Gawlick said. “Especially for high schoolers, it shows them that [they] can do this—music is the core of their conversation, but [the relationship] is centered on learning, of study, of discipline, and human exchange. For us, music is an enrichment, but for these kids, it’s so much more.”

These relationships are why the Gawlicks place a great emphasis on the instructor selection process, wanting to ensure that they have dedicated and talented BC students serving as role models for the students. “These opportunities are not ‘one-offs’ … when we choose these students, we choose them based off their passion and their commitment,” Ralf Gawlick said. “BC students are not teachers, but they are extremely committed and dedicated and passionate and I give them some direction, but not much.”

The two also put a great emphasis on the community service aspects of Music Outreach. “For these families, many of them are really struggling, music isn’t even thought of,” Gawlick said. “This is, in a sense, social justice. This is unlike other volunteer opportunities, the study of music is not an add on—if you want to seriously motivate these children and make a difference. You show them that this can change your life.”

Gawlick hopes to expand both the Gardner Academy and Brighton High programs in the next few years. “We hope to grow in both of the schools, especially in the high school … we would need a lot more instruments,” she said. Gawlick also hopes to establish a middle school band and an orchestra, but she recognizes the great deal of work and funding required for such endeavors.

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