Maryville College is well known for its focus on service learning. Many MC professors find creative ways for students to apply what they are reading in textbooks to the real world through community service. This semester, Choral Assistant and Fine Arts Recruiter Ashley Abbott and music education student Emily Randles have introduced a new program at The Boys and Girls Club. Their desire is to give students in Blount County greater accessibility to music education while also offering students hands on experience in their desired fields.
Abbott came up with the idea in response to student interest in service based practicum options, and she chose Randles to be her assistant because of her experience on the piano. Every Wednesday afternoon, Randles and Abbott give middle school aged kids at The Boys and Girls Club choral instruction. The program is laid back and kids are given the choice as to whether or not they want to participate in “music time” each week. According to Abbott, the kids she and Randles have been instructing have grown exponentially as musicians over the course of the semester.
“Our ‘classroom’ has been such a wonderful place to see the students grow, both musically and personally,” said Abbott. “Some of the members wouldn’t even sing with the group at the beginning because they were so shy and now those same members have solos!”
Randles noted how many schools are slowly getting rid of their music education curriculum, and she hopes that programs like these will continue to allow students to be involved in music even if they do not have access to it in school.
“I feel like music is one area in which a student can excel even if they don’t excel at other academic disciplines,” said Randles.
To illustrate the importance of music education, the instruction offered by Randles and Abbott is more diverse than just basic choral skills. Team building is one of the biggest skills the students are learning as well as the power of self-expression and creativity.
“We do everything from singing, to dancing, to learning how to move our bodies in a musical way,” Abbott said.
She also spoke about how the program creates a musical outlet not only for the students at The Boys and Girls club but also an academic outlet for MC students like Randles who have a passion for education. One of their goals for the program is to develop it so that it qualifies as practicum credit for Music Education students.
Although Randles cannot count this experience as a practicum yet, she is still growing and benefiting from the experience. One of the choral pieces that she is teaching to the class doubles as a project for her conducting class, and she is learning more about the joys and challenges of being an educator.
Randles is interested specifically in working with elementary aged kids but said that she is happy to get experience working with older kids.
“Elementary schoolers are very anxious to please and they tend to listen a little bit better…getting [middle schoolers] motivated can be a challenge at times, especially since they aren’t doing this for a grade,” Randles said.
To motivate them she tries to incorporate reward systems into each lesson, so that they maintain the desire to do well. Often, when they finish learning a new piece, Randles and Abbott will throw a small party with snacks and games to congratulate them.
“I’ve been enjoying it,” Randles said of the experience overall, “I’m glad I get to work with this age group.”
Overall, the program has become a fantastic learning experience for the Boys and Girls Club students, Randles and Abbott alike. While the kids have been growing as musicians and Randles has been growing as a future educator, Abbott has learned how to start a program from scratch.
“Starting a program from the ground up is great because I’ve really been given creative license on how to run the program, while continuing to instill standards of education onto the activities,” Abbott said.
She also described what a joy it was to work with the Boys and Girls Club board of directors and Maryville College to make the partnership happen.
“There would be no way this program would’ve have happened without the amazing support of everyone involved,” Abbott said, “The Board of the Boys and Girls Club has been wonderfully responsive and helpful every step of the way.”
Moving forward, Randles and Abbott will continue to build the program and allow the kids more opportunities to be involved in music outside of school. Their first performance as a group will be Nov. 7 as part of the Maryville College Invitational Choir Festival. Admission to the show is free, but they will be taking up donations for The Boys and Girls Club during the show.