This year, OrchKids expanded into two new school sites, launching instrumental programs at Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School and The SEED School of Maryland. Because every OrchKids school partner has different needs, we strive to create programming that can be tailored to fit each school’s environment while maintaining the high quality of musical instruction that OrchKids is known for.
In partnership with the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, OrchKids created a new in-school orchestra model for the students at Margaret Brent. Originally slotted to be a wind band program, 78 fourth and fifth grade students now participate in a robust orchestra under the direction of Sandra Ragusa, OrchKids Woodwind Department Chair, and an internationally renowned orchestral director. Sandra is joined by two other OrchKids teaching artists, Sean Campbell and Catherine Gates, who bring string and woodwind expertise to the classroom. The addition of the strings family has brought an exciting new dynamic to these young players, who learned to play their very first notes last October.
Margaret Brent students participate in a 3-day-per-week program where they receive lessons and ensemble direction for 60 minutes each session. This in-school, full orchestra model is new for OrchKids. Instead of beginning their musical journey in small groups, these OrchKids all come together and rehearse as a cohesive unit – learning quickly what it takes to be part of an ensemble. This model also allows for students to work at an accelerated pace, practicing all aspects of instrumental training (note-reading, fingerings, different clefs, etc.) as they simultaneously learn to master their instrument.
The initial results are promising! Margaret Brent faculty, staff, and families have already begun to see and hear a difference in these young OrchKids. Many have commented that their students are demonstrating high levels of excitement and engagement, greater ability to cooperate and work as a group, and increased resilience – not only with music, but with school in general.
The SEED School of Maryland became OrchKids’ 7th site this fall with the establishment of a before-school violin program. OrchKids began its partnership with the SEED School in 2017, hosting its summer program on the beautiful campus of this public boarding school. After witnessing the enthusiasm and success of several SEED students in the OrchKids summer program, it seemed like a natural next step to develop an instrumental program to provide SEED students with the possibility to continue their violin studies throughout the school year.
The SEED violin program, led by OrchKids teaching artist Judson Deitrich, is also a new model for OrchKids both in structure and content. As OrchKids first before-school initiative, the SEED program provides one-hour group classes to seven students three days per week at 7 a.m. Meeting early in the morning allows students to participate without interfering with the school’s rigorous academic class schedule and enables them to learn when they are alert and most focused.
In addition to the new time of day, the SEED model allows us to reach a new demographic of beginning string students, serving sixth and seventh graders instead of younger elementary-aged children. Because older students have better developed motor and reading skills, they can progress at a faster rate and integrate more quickly into larger ensembles. In fact, these budding new musicians gave their first performance in December, traveling to Highlandtown Elementary/Middle #215 to play alongside other OrchKids students. They are looking forward to more performances this spring, including a special cross-site collaboration with all OrchKids strings students.