Third-grader Nicole Phan already can read music and tell the difference between compositions penned during the Renaissance and baroque periods.
The 9-year-old isn’t enrolled in private music lessons and the tiny, diverse Catholic elementary school she attends doesn’t provide a full-time music program. But, the girl and scores of other classmates are learning everything from singing and songwriting to music history through a one-of-a-kind after-school tutoring and music education program created by a local singer and songwriter.
“Anybody can come in anytime,” Nicole said of the after school program offered three days a week at St. Pius X Elementary. “We’ve been learning to read notes and about different time periods. It helps you learn music and play the recorder, and it doesn’t take away from school.”
As tight budgets squeeze music education out of many public and private schools, the 135-student elementary in northwest Nashville has found a way to make it a priority. The school has partnered with the Learning for Life program – created by local recording artist Lynn Bryant – to give students who might not otherwise be exposed much to music experiences that some parents would pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to provide.
“There was no music education in the school at all. I have always had a heart for children, and I wanted to give back,” said Bryant, who funds the program with proceeds of her debut album Stone’s Throw Away. “I don’t want my life to be all about me. I tell the students as you’re reaching for your dreams, make sure you help someone else along the way.”
The Learning for Life program pays for academic tutors and music teachers to work individually and in small groups with students after school. Students who sign up for the program can improve reading and math skills, learn good character traits and participate in a music program that includes voice lessons, performance coaching and tips on how to write a song.
Bryant created the charity in 1999 in honor of her late grandmother and started working with St. Pius X a year ago after learning that the school didn’t have a music program or after-school tutoring.
St. Pius X Principal John Saenz, who has a master’s degree in music and performance, was tapped to lead the music portion. However, Bryant has repeatedly visited the school to perform songs, work with students and bring in guest speakers from the music business.
“I teach the class almost like a college-level seminar where they get music appreciation, music history and music theory,” Saenz said. “We study everything from medieval Gregorian chants to 20th century jazz, and they just suck it right up. It’s just amazing to watch the students grow.”
Christy Glaser, a first-grade teacher at St. Pius X, also tutors for the program. She said the ability to extend the school day is paying dividends for the students who need extra time and help.
“We review and go over things they are doing in class,” said Glaser, who also helps teach character education during the program. “We talk about life skills, things that will help them in life. It’s a self-esteem builder, and I always tell them they can do whatever they want.”
Emily Geist, a third-grader, participates in the after-school tutoring to sharpen her reading skills. She goes over class assignments, gets help on homework and reads new books.
“Sometimes we play math and science on the computer,” said Emily, 8. “I’m reading a whole lot more. Last night I finished a book, and I’m on the eighth chapter of another book.”