Changing lives through music education

In 2014, with the support of a generous $1 million commitment from the Kirk Capital Campaign, Kirk Mountain Presbyterian Church embarked on a journey to create a program that would impact the lives of neighboring communities in Pontiac, Michigan. Driven by a deep-seated love of music and a belief in its ability to touch the human spirit, Kirk leaders examine ways to achieve social change through music. It was during this exploration that they stumbled upon the world of projects inspired by El Sistema, a global movement that has brought the gift of music to thousands of children around the world, transforming their lives. lives and strengthens community.

The values ​​and principles of El Sistema resonated deeply with Kirk leaders and they decided to form Accent Pontiac, a music education organization where children from across the Pontiac School District come together to learn, grow and unleash their full selves potential. Accent Pontiac serves more than 270 students and provides a free, comprehensive music education experience, including in-school and after-school programs. Through community-based partnerships, students receive transportation, daily snacks and meals. Summer programs offer students day camps, overnight experiences and scholarships. “Music brings communities together,” said Accent Pontiac Executive Director Sommer Dawson. “When Accent Pontiac students perform, they connect with their audiences and strengthen community pride. Music adds energy to communities and strengthens our sense of belonging and connection with others.” contact.

A defining characteristic of Accent Pontiac is its unwavering commitment to giving children a voice and allowing them to create their own music. The organization’s composition courses foster active listening, teamwork, and collaboration. Students come together to create original musical compositions, requiring them to work closely together in order to incorporate all elements into their new compositions. “Accent Pontiac sees the powerful impact music has on Pontiac students, including increased confidence, improved concentration, improved school attendance and enhanced leadership skills. When a child discovers they can create something beautiful and contribute to their community, It can change the entire trajectory of what a child thinks their life could be,” Dawson said.

A girl in sunglasses and a boy in a sweatshirt play drums on an outdoor stage.

Accent Pontiac musicians Dynasty Smith (left) and Early Porchia (right) perform percussion during the 2023 Year-End Showcase Concert.Photos courtesy of Jeff Dunn Photography

Each of the organization’s activities is carefully designed to be culturally sensitive, keeping students at the forefront of the experience. In addition to the music curriculum, they have established a social-emotional curriculum covering self-awareness, relationship building, effective decision-making, and self-management. “We offer leadership activities throughout the programming: younger students may be asked to count the beginning of a piece or introduce a piece to the audience during a performance; older students may May be asked to lead a piece during a rehearsal or performance, or to mentor younger students.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on the mental health issues faced by students across the country, including those in Pontiac. “Students shared with Accent Pontiac staff members feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, which become more prevalent as students enter middle school,” Dawson said. “Our after-school programs work by connecting with trusted advisors that students can rely on to Adults maintain a consistent presence to support students. In addition, Accent Pontiac partners with the Pontiac School District to provide specialized mental health services to students when needed.

“I think some of the most important lessons we’ve learned [from the pandemic] around flexibility in our approach and the specific needs of each student and family. During the pandemic, we pivoted to providing personalized lessons to students in their homes, on their porches,” Dawson said. This customized approach remains part of the organization’s mission as they continue to assess each student’s unique situation and address any barriers to their participation, including transportation and food accessibility. This school year, with support from the NEA, Accent Pontiac will expand extracurricular activities at Pontiac Middle School to serve students transferring from Herrington Elementary School, Walt Whitman Elementary School and Alcott Elementary School.

Accent Pontiac students recently performed at a city hall presentation and received a standing ovation, an event attended by more than 300 people. “By providing Accent Pontiac youth with the opportunity to perform throughout the community, we not only foster joy and confidence in the Pontiac youth, but also foster a sense of pride in the Pontiac community as they see young People thrive through music, Dawson added: “I got an email from a community group saying they saw our students perform at a city hall presentation. She said they were awesome and wanted to know about us. Is it possible to attend their upcoming events.

Girl wearing sunglasses and blue shirt playing drums on outdoor stage.

Accent Pontiac musician Validity Shirley performs in the Barrel Band during the 2023 Year-End Showcase Concert.Photos courtesy of Jeff Dunn Photography

Accent Pontiac is continuing its expansion by hosting a four-day evening music retreat for a group of middle school students in Western Michigan and is considering partnering with another El Sistema-inspired organization, Kalamazoo Kids in Tune or EcoSistema, to provide Exceptional service.

Reflecting on the organization’s impact to date, Dawson said: “Social change is not something that happens overnight; it is a gradual change in mentality and social perspective that often takes decades to fully achieve. We are achieving social change through music , providing Pontiac students with the opportunity to be seen as leaders and creators, in the hope that their community’s perception of them will become the norm for Pontiac’s youth. Our young musicians are helping to unite their communities through music. Together.

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