Non-Profit Gives Students the Instruments to Succeed

By Lauren Wanko

It’s not even 9 in the morning, but these middle school students are already rockin’ out.

“It’s exhilarating because I know at this time other people are sleeping and I’m just singing my heart out,” said Julia.

The Academy 1 Middle School students are part of Little Kids Rock, a national non-profit that trains public school teachers to teach kids popular music that they can relate to. Little Kids Rock purchases new instruments like guitars, drums, keyboards and microphones and donates them to schools. The non-profit raises funds and relies on donations.

“We partner with school districts where 50 percent or more of their student population is on the free and reduced lunch program, so where the need is most,” said Little Kids Rock communication officer Keith Hejna.

It all started with one teacher who was frustrated with the lack of funding for music education at his school. What started as one guitar class has transformed into a national program, now in 1,500 schools across the country.

Since 2002 Little Kids Rock has reached more than 400,000 kids in schools throughout the nation. The non-profit says here in Jersey City they’ve established music programs in more than half the public schools. They’re in 75 schools throughout the state.

“There are over 1.3 million public school children around the country that receive no music education, so Little Kids Rock is trying to reverse that trend,” said Hejna.

Before Little Kids Rock, drummer Gabriela never picked up a pair of sticks.

“It’s helped me to be more confident. It’s helped me want to succeed more,” Gabriela said.

“The best part about it like when you get to choose your own music taste, you get somewhat addicted to music. It’s really nice to have your own taste and sing your own stuff,” said seventh grade student Joan.

“The main goal is getting kids in touch with their creative side, and we did that through making music. We want kids to earn to play the music that they know and love so they’re engaged from the moment they pick up the guitar,” Hejna said.

Kids perform songs from bands like The Beatles to artists like Led Zeppelin and Bruno Mars. Guitarist Michelle applies her musical skills to other school subjects.

“Music sometimes it helps me study. You take words and put them into musical styles,” said Michelle.

“When I’m playing the electric guitar I’m just being me, and I’m lost in my own world,” eighth grader Gilir said.

Teachers like Warren Gramm apply for the program. They complete a two-day free training then receive the instruments and a curriculum to establish lasting music programs.

“We’ve had kids play at art museums, and malls and Carnegie Hall and the kids love it. They’re forever changed,” Gramm said.

Michelle loves the rush she gets during performances.

“It feels awesome. My favorite part about being in Little Kids Rock is that I get to be myself and play in front of other people and show them I have talent,” said Michelle.

Talent is something all these young rock stars have.