For the past three years, students at the Paul Banks K-2nd Elementary School in Homer, Alaska have been spending part of their school week learning to play violin. The ‘Paul Banks Preludes’ program was inspired by the JAMM music program in Juneau, which itself was inspired by the El Sistema music program in Venezuela. Kindergarten and 1st grade students have violin sessions three times per week, while 2nd graders have optional after school sessions twice per week. The program is open to every student, including those with special needs.
Incorporating violin instruction into the school curriculum is intentional and designed to engage students on multiple levels. “It helps our kids develop focus, self-discipline, leadership skills and teamwork, “states Paul Banks Principal Eric Pederson. “We sought this program out because it has the potential to impact the whole child.”
To sustain this program, the Paul Banks School works with the Homer OPUS (Orchestral Programs Unified Steering) Committee of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra to fundraise and with a local music store to supply and fix instruments. Students give numerous concerts at the school and around the community, including at the recent school Readathon assembly. “Our community loves it!” reflects Principal Eric Pederson. “It has brought everyone involved a real sense of pride.”
Mr. Pederson also reports that the teachers at the Paul Banks School have seen positive effects on the academic life of their students. “One notable outcome has been on attention, especially during activities like reading. Students simply have more stamina to read with greater focus.”
The success of the Preludes program has inspired other schools in Homer to start their own. Fireweed Academy, Homer’s public charter elementary school has started its own violin program called Frescoes. And as a way of continuing their new-found love of music, a number of students from Preludes and Frescos have gone on to participate in the Homer Youth String Orchestra Club. Based on all this success, a recent fundraising campaign has made it possible to support a full-time violin teacher in Homer for the next three years.