After-school music program gets its wish – and more

An after-school music program in Michigan received a surprise $20,000 gift that will help it go forward as a free educational opportunity for elementary and middle-school students.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
A fifth-grader plays cello at Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton, Mass., in 2010. In Ishpeming, Mich., an after-school orchestral music program for elementary and middle-school students received a boost when it was given a $20,000 gift.

When Anne Asplund received a $20,000 check from the Cliffs/Eagle Mine Marquette County Community Fund for her after-school music program, it was like a dream come true.

"One day that check just came in the mail, and I was shaking," she told The Mining Journal of Marquette, Mich. "I couldn't believe it. I haven't even spent any money yet, because I've never had money to spend, so it's just been an overwhelming joyful thing for us."

Ms. Asplund, a teacher of music, gym, and technology at Birchview Elementary and Ishpeming (Mich.) Middle School, has been involved with the after-school strings program for 10 years, which was started by Ishpeming Middle and High School music teacher Sheila Grazulis.

Asplund said she took over the class three or four years ago, and teaches the violin to about 35 elementary school kids, and a whole spectrum of orchestral instruments to about 20 middle school kids. Everything she uses to teach, including all of the instruments, were either donated by the community or purchased with funds raised by community members.

She learned about the community grants last spring and was told to make a list of "everything we could ever dream of" to use in the music program, she says. She made a list totaling approximately $11,000 that included violins of every size — she "went crazy," she says.

"In August they came back to me and said, 'You didn't spend enough,'" Asplund says. "I thought I'd gone over the top."

So she went back and put in for transportation costs to go play at various places around the community. She put in money for supplies, music, storage units, and T-shirts. When she was done, the wish list totaled $20,000. She never thought it was going to happen, she says.

The money will be instrumental in ensuring that the after-school music program stays free, Asplund says. "It's always been my dream to have enough instruments to keep this program free, because it really is, to the best of my knowledge, the only after-school program that is free to the students, except the rental of the instruments," she says.

Music programs such as hers are incredibly important because they offer emotional and intellectual development that kids might not get in their other classes, Asplund says.

"The correlation between reading music, understanding rhythm, understanding note reading, all ties in to reading skills," she says.

For the middle school kids, "they can express feelings that are not always allowed – sorrow, joy, excitement," she says. "[T]he arts allow you that comfort zone to really explore different facets of your personality and gifts that aren't always seen in the academic world."

"[What] I like most is getting to play and just playing with my friends," says Taylor Longtine, 9, a fourth-grader who participates in the program. "I like reading the notes."

Ericka Olson, an eighth-grader at the Ishpeming Middle School, participates in the after-school program and volunteers to help Asplund with the elementary kids. She's been involved with the program for five years, she says, and loves that she's able to learn music and keep involved with the arts.

 She also loves "the inspiration within the pieces, and the sound when you harmonize with other instruments.

"I just love how it sounds, and the inspiration, and bringing a smile to our parents' and our families' faces," she says.

• Information from The Mining Journal.

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