A Story of Transformation
By Jeremy Osborne
One of the benefits of teaching guitar at the Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Center is getting to witness the high rate of positive change that learning music brings to my students. Music has the unique ability to provide an honest experience in which the students’ hard work brings them legitimate recognition. For many of my students, this has never happened before. I get asked a lot about what it’s like working in a youth detention facility, and I usually say, “The bad days are bad, but the good days are really good.” Fortunately, we have many more good days than bad, and the abundance of positive change I witness turns the bad days into mere reminders of what these young people are truly dealing with in their lives.
I’d like to tell you about one student. Let’s call him Taylor.
Taylor is a long-term resident at Gardner-Betts. He is extremely intelligent and very intuitive. He reluctantly entered my class last year because he needed fine arts credit to stay on track for high school graduation. He was always polite and did what I asked, but made it clear he had no interest in being there.
One afternoon, Taylor walked into the classroom, and I could tell he was already having a bad day. Minutes after we started rehearsing I heard a loud “POW!” Taylor had punched his guitar in an attempt to vent his frustration. I immediately told him to give me the guitar, and explained that I had a responsibility to keep all of my students safe. Taylor responded by lobbing a flurry of colorful verbal threats of bodily harm at me. Fortunately, the Gardner-Betts staff members were able to calm him down without having to use physical restraint. My heart was pounding. I felt like I had failed Taylor, as this incident caused him to be removed from guitar class for the rest of the year.
Taylor was allowed back in the class this fall. He was in a better place with his treatment, and living in a quieter unit. We talked for a long time after class one day, and he apologized for what had happened. I told him how happy I was to have him back, and that we could try again. This time around, Taylor immersed himself in the class. He began to learn solos and compose his own music on the instrument. Every week he made a point to tell me he how sorry he was about what had happened, and that he hadn’t realized how much he would enjoy learning guitar. I kept reminding him how happy I was to have him in class.
Taylor still has some tough days, but he’s learned to cope with them. He’ll tell me, “I’m mad, sir, not at you, but mad nonetheless. Is it OK if I just chill for a little while?” When this happens, he always picks up the guitar by the end of class.
Last week Taylor performed Etude No. 1 by Leo Brouwer as part of our winter concert. This piece is a rite of passage for classical guitar students, and Taylor worked on it obsessively. All of the students played beautifully that afternoon, but Taylor stole the show, and got a huge ovation after his piece. I’m happy to say that Taylor is just days away from being transferred into a lower security facility. The strides he has made in the last four months have given his treatment team the confidence to expedite him through his sentence, and put him on a faster track to returning home.
Jeremy Osborne has been one of GuitarCurriculum.com’s major contributors over the years. In addition to composing and arranging for the curriculum, Jeremy is Austin Classical Guitar’s Assistant Director of Education. In this role, he teaches two daily guitar ensemble classes at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center where he uses GuitarCurriculum.com to help him enrich the lives of the talented young people he works with.
In 2006, Pushpa Basnet founded the Early Childhood Development Center, a special home in Nepal for children whose parents are incarcerated. Due to overcrowding in Nepal’s orphanages, these young people are often left to live with their parents in prison or by themselves on the streets. In recognition of her work, she was chosen as CNN’s Hero of the Year in 2012, and in 2016 she was declared the CNN Super Hero: Above and Beyond!
Last year, Ms. Basnet decided to bring music to the home, and into the lives of the dozens of children living there. She partnered with Daniel Linden and the Gharana Music Foundation in Kathmandu, and together they approached us at GuitarCurriculum.com for support starting a guitar class.
We were thrilled to guide them through using the curriculum, along with offering teacher training and consultation - anything we could do to help. Also, as we always do with new partners around the world, our staff created new arrangements of Nepali folk songs to add to the curriculum's music library, so that the kids could learn to play songs they recognize.
The results have been incredible, and we invite you to watch this beautiful video about the program and the impact it is having on children:
An Interview with The Honorable Darlene Byrne
GuitarCurriculum.com is used by teachers in classrooms around the world, including at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center in Central Texas where Austin Classical Guitar (ACG) offers daily guitar ensemble classes for youth who are incarcerated. Many of the students in this program have at one time or another found themselves in the courtroom of The Honorable Darlene Byrne. Having spent over 15 years working with youth involved in the Juvenile Justice and Foster Care Systems, Judge Byrne offers a unique and insightful perspective on the work GuitarCurriculum.com makes possible with these talented young people who happen to have troubled pasts.
What was your initial thought about a classical guitar program at Gardner Betts?
That it’s unique, innovative, and a win-win for the students and the facility. It’s not a program I would have ever imagined thriving in a detention center, but it’s become a wonderful enrichment experience that allows these young men to define themselves other than as someone who has broken the law. Learning music can reveal the unique, and often hidden, talents these kids have. It’s more than music. It’s mentorship, and the relationship the instructor has with the students.
"Austin Classical Guitar uses a beautiful art form to crack through the hard exterior of some of our community’s toughest young people and inspire in them a sense of beauty, passion, and self-respect."
What kind of impact do you think the guitar program has on the students at Gardner Betts?
As a judge, I routinely see young people in my courtroom who suffer from the effects of abuse, neglect, poverty, mental illness, and addiction. These youth often develop a hard exterior and are not easily reached by individuals in the community who want to engage them in a positive activity. Austin Classical Guitar uses a beautiful art form to crack through the hard exterior of some of our community's toughest young people and inspire in them a sense of beauty, passion, and self-respect. For some students this may be the first opportunity they’ve had to express themselves and their emotions. Most of the young people at Gardner Betts are one, two, or three years behind in their education, and this becomes something they are self-conscious about. Because of this, many learn not to like school, and feel embarrassed if they don’t know something. But the great thing about the guitar program is that all the students are starting from the same place. They’re learning the language of music together. Regrettably, I think many of these students have been taught to view messing up as a failure. ACG takes those messy moments, like when a student might be having trouble with a passage of music, and turns them into moments of enlightenment, discovery, and learning.
Do you have a favorite memory of the guitar students at Gardner Betts?
One of the most beautiful experiences I have had with the program was seeing one of the young men perform a solo in front of a live audience while at the same time displaying a paper and tape, life size, three-dimensional rendering of a guitar he had built. It is a remarkable piece of art and an expression of what this program can inspire within some of these young folks. This young man took it upon himself to create this piece of art for his instructors while his classes were on pause for the summer. It was a testament to how much passion the program had inspired in his heart.
New School Year Thoughts from Dr. Kevin Vigil
Dear Guitar Education Colleagues,
We asked one of our favorite guitar education leaders, Dr. Kevin Vigil from Loudoun County, Virginia, to share some thoughts about how he prepares for a new school year. Wow, are we glad we did! These are awesome, and we hope you find them helpful too. More on Kevin and his program is online here.
Greetings Guitar Gurus,
Some of you may have already begun the new school year while others will soon be in the classroom. Some of you are experienced teachers while some are starting their adventures in guitar teaching for the first time. No matter what your circumstance, welcome to the 2017 – 2018 school year!
I have been invited to share some thoughts and tips as we all begin this year, so here we go…
1) Learn your students’ names! Make it a point to learn every student’s first name during the first week of school, their last name by the end of the second week and the parents’ names by the third week of school. Calling students by their names is a sign that you care enough about each student to get to know them better. Get to know the parents and make it known that you are available to them. Many of them will be your strongest supporters.
2) There is a difference between ten years of experience and one year of experience ten times. We have probably all had a teacher sometime in our education that used the same syllabus and simply changed dates and presented the same exact lecture multiple times. I encourage you not to be that teacher. Instead, reflect on last year’s experience; what would you do differently? If you are a new teacher, journal everything and go back and review that journal as you prepare for the following year.
3) Backward Design: Yes, No or Maybe? Backward Design is a method of setting goals before making lesson plans and creating assessments. This is a standard model in education. Goals are certainly important, so ask yourself: What abilities should your students have acquired by the end of the year? How will you sequence instruction? On the other hand, be alert to your students’ needs. Not all students learn at the same pace. There may be times when forward design works better to improve mastery of a particular skill or concept. Remember, your students are not just numbers, they are kids. Be willing to alter your goals if you feel that it is in the best interest of your students.
4) Second chances. At the beginning of the year, you will likely have returning students in your program. Some may have been problematic last year and you may even have some negative feelings about a particular student. Take a cleansing breath and think back to your Human, Growth and Development classes or your own childhood. One year or even a summer can make a huge difference in a child’s life. Ask yourself: If the student was problematic in your class last year, why did they sign up to study with you again? You probably made more of an impact in that child’s life than you thought. You are the adult capable of compassion and forgiveness. We don’t always know what happens at home and the behaviors that were exhibited previously probably had very little to do with you. In fact, if they are returning, feel confident that they know you have much to offer.
5) Create opportunities for your students so that this year is uniquely special. Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. You can set the stage for meaningful opportunities throughout the year. Give your students the opportunity to be in self-directed ensembles, lead a sectional, demonstrate what they do in their free time or participate in an open mic setting. If a student has a creative idea, pursue it with them. Other opportunities include community involvement in the form of performances at libraries, other schools, senior living facilities, or even guitar festivals. Bring in a special guest or take your students to a concert. Be creative, but most of all, make this year somehow different from last year so that it is uniquely special and memorable.
6) Stay active and nurture your passion. I assume that you learned and fell in love with the guitar at some point in time. Stay connected with those feelings and continue to practice your craft. Students are quite perceptive; they know if their teacher is fully engaged with them or simply going through the motions. When you demonstrate your passion for playing and teaching, your students will benefit more than you will ever know. You may enjoy watching this video of some teachers in Loudoun and Fairfax Counties in Virginia staying active and collaborating together to the benefit of their students.
I hope this is good food for thought and that you have an incredible and special year with your students.
2016 Education Progress Report
See Pepe Romero play Vivaldi with 80 kids (October 2016)!
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