Playing the violin is her passion. Teaching it gives her joy. Seeing a kid smile when they learn a new song, get something right or learn how to hold a bow puts a smile on her face.
She’s played music most of her life, but Laura Gonzalez, Bryan High junior, never realized its true impact until November when she formed the Bach String Academy for Bryan ISD elementary students. The student-led program, which offers violin lessons every Monday to elementary school students all over Bryan, blossomed out of an idea Gonzalez had for an International Baccalaureate, IB, service project.
Creativity, activity, service, or CAS, are core requirements of the IB program Gonzales is enrolled in at Bryan High. Students have the option to choose how they will fulfill the requirements.
Gonzalez took part in a free employee-led after-school string program when she was in elementary school, discovering its value. After a conversation about her idea with John Lemons, Bryan High orchestra director, Gonzalez gained confidence in her ability to organize a similar program. She approached a few of her fellow Bryan High orchestra students about helping her lead the program. Eventually, seven other violin students and a cello student joined her as volunteers.
Students Teaching Students
At the beginning of the school year, Gonzalez sent flyers home to elementary parents advertising free weekly string lessons. They didn’t know what to expect. Gonzalez said she expected to hear from a few parents who might be interested. However, when she arrived at the academy’s first information meeting on Oct. 24 a room full of eager parents and students greeted her.
“At the beginning, we were just thinking maybe 15 kids, but overall we have around 33 kids,” Gonzalez said.
To accommodate all of the students, Bach organizers divided the groups between “older and younger” students and made use of additional orchestra rooms.
Interest spread quickly, and it didn’t take long for the elementary students to get excited about the program. When talking about the excitement that came with the first time she played a song Lydia Frei, Bonham third-grade student, said, “It made me feel pretty accomplished in my life. It was one of the biggest things I’ve ever done.”
Students like Frei can get lessons from Bach String Academy for free. All they have to do is bring an instrument, which can be rented at local stores for a reasonable price.
Frei’s mother Ashley said she was a little hesitant about her daughter getting music lessons because she didn’t want to commit to the money and extra time required without knowing if her daughter really interested. She’s since found out through the academy that her daughter is genuinely interested in playing the violin and she’s thankful for the opportunity.
“Bach was able to give our family an opportunity to have music lessons and definitely not break the bank,” Ashley said.
She’s thankful that the student organizers spend their free time to “give back.” Many of the organizers like Tomasita Ponce, Bryan High junior, are just as thankful to the elementary students for what they provide in return.
“It makes me really happy when they’re excited,” Ponce said. “I get excited for them too. It’s like oh my gosh we learned a new song.”
When her elementary students struggle, Ponce said she tries to understand what they’re struggling with and talk to them in a way they helped her understand when she was their age.
Samantha Cruz, Bryan High junior, said the students developed a lot since the time they joined the academy. She said the students had to be taught the fundamentals, such as how to hold an instrument, know the parts of an instrument and read music.
“It’s nice seeing everything come together,” Cruz said. “Most of the time the kids comprehend with us, and we’re just going with the flow, so it’s nice.”
As everything comes together with the Bach program, the student organizers’ orchestra director John Lemons said the Bryan High orchestra is benefiting as well.
“Anytime that you explain your art or whatever your passion is, it helps,” Lemons said. “It reminds you of your own fundamentals, and you’ve got to keep on top of what you’re teaching.”
Lemons said that he is proud of Gonzalez and all the other students that are helping her. Both of them plan to keep the student-led program going for many years to come.
“I plan to continue doing this,” Gonzalez said. “After I graduate, I want kids from the orchestra to stand up and take the lead in the string academy and continue on.”
Children First. Always.
If you are interested in signing your child up for the Bach String Academy next year, there will be a parent information meeting in the fall where you can register your child. The time, date and location of the information meeting are not scheduled yet.
For More Information about the Bach String Academy: