This FWCS program helps students access musical instruments and education

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When seventh grade Amara Marion started taking orchestra lessons at Memorial Park Middle School last year, she fell in love with the trumpet.

Even so, learning the instrument has not been as easy or as accessible as she would have thought. During the pandemic, she has followed a hybrid schedule at school, spending some days in the socially distanced classroom and others doing online learning. This made using his school’s instruments more difficult.

Memorial Park eighth grader Amara Marion poses with her trumpet at a local Fort Wayne music hotspot, Crescendo Coffee & More.

Through a program called b Instrumental, she was able to borrow a musical instrument to keep in the comfort of her home and develop her skills. This allowed her to practice outside of the classroom when it suited her best, and the experience she gained made her interested in a career in music.

This is the idea behind b Instrumentala program launched by the Foundation of Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) in 2016, which provides students with greater access to the benefits of music education, instruments, and careers in the music industry.

Amara Marion, an eighth grader at Memorial Park, writes piano songs at Crescendo Coffee & More.

The program is heavily backed by the Fort Wayne-based music retail giant Pure waterwhose founder, Chuck Surack, got his start in the FWCS music programs, not having taken a single private course. Over the years, Surack’s business has become the largest online retailer of professional musical instruments and audio equipment in the United States.

“What I learned as a music student has sustained me all my life,” Surack says in a press release from 2017. “In both my business career and my personal life, music has been hugely important. That’s why my wife Lisa and I have embarked on this campaign to dramatically increase the number of students involved in music in community schools. of Fort Wayne.”

Amara Marion, an eighth grader at Memorial Park, writes piano songs at Crescendo Coffee & More.

B Instrumental was originally developed by the FWCS Foundation in late 2014 with the aim of increasing students’ academic performance through their participation in the arts. Studies show that students who participate in the arts, especially music, often earn higher grades, have better attendance, and experience fewer disciplinary events throughout their college careers.

In the spring of 2016, the program began with 32 students from Lakeside Middle School, Miami Middle School, and Shawnee Middle School. When students are in sixth grade, they can learn which instrument(s) they want to play. Then, in grade seven, they can try out the program, allowing them to borrow an instrument from grades 7 through 12. It also gives them access to additional music education, summer camps and training opportunities to improve their skills.

Amara Marion, an eighth grader at Memorial Park, writes piano songs at Crescendo Coffee & More.

A year into b Instrumental, the Suracks donated 100 gently used instruments to give students better access to equipment. Since then, Sweetwater has continued to support the program with access to new and lightly used instruments that students can borrow as well as financial contributions.

Bruce Schneider, head of the b Instrumental program at FWCS, says the instruments themselves provide students with better learning opportunities.

“When I was first hired, many of our instruments were over 30 years old in our district,” says Schneider.

Memorial Park eighth grader Amara Marion poses with her trumpet at a local Fort Wayne music hotspot, Crescendo Coffee & More.

A challenge with older instruments is that they each have unique and different quirks, and since students might be assigned a different one each year in class, they would have to compensate for each instrument’s differences. Having a consistent, newer instrument that they can use throughout their education with b Instrumental gives them more encouragement and ease in the already difficult process of learning to play.

“Without Sweetwater and the donations, we wouldn’t be where we are now instrument-wise,” says Schneider. “So far, we’ve purchased 682 new instruments for just over $405,000.”

Since the beginning of b Instrumental, the program has grown to 462 students enrolled for the 2021-2022 academic year, after a slight decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schneider says like many things during the pandemic, taking music lessons hasn’t been easy.

“COVID affected our enrollment for a while because the kids just didn’t have the same experience they would have in a normal school year,” he says. “We never really stopped the band, but the overall classes were really diminished at that point in time.”

Schneider says the program has returned to some normalcy and has started having full music and orchestra classes again.

While returning to the classroom, Marion says b Instrumental has helped her retain her musical skills and continue to develop her art without having to worry about transporting her trumpet between school and home.

Going into 8th grade this year, she wanted to take over the band because of the people in her class, the opportunity to perform on stage, and the opportunity to continue learning from her band director at Memorial Park Middle School, Scott Maack.

“He was a very good role model for me,” says Marion.

Amara Marion, an eighth grader at Memorial Park, writes piano songs at Crescendo Coffee & More.

She is also grateful for the support and trust she has received from Sweetwater and b Instrumental. Before enrolling in a band, his only experience with the trumpet was once playing with his grandfather’s crown. Although the instruments are similar, the crown was in the family for many generations and was beyond the need for tuning.

“Sweetwater sent us some really nice instruments,” she says. “I know some students who want to play an instrument don’t have that opportunity.”

Thanks in part to the growth that b Instrumental has inspired, FWCS was recently approved by the State of Indiana to have pathways to graduation for civic arts programs, which will include a music study option, Schneider says. This means that students like Marion who are considering a career in music will have a dedicated high school curriculum to prepare them for college or post-secondary careers.

“It would be really nice if b Instrumental was open to more schools,” says Marion. “It’s a very nice program. It encouraged me to play more and to succeed in playing the trumpet.”

Learn more
For more information on b Instrumental or to donate to the program, visit the FWCS Foundation website.

This story is part of a series supported by Sweetwater.

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