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JSO Afterschool Program Gets $10,000 Boost

Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra

A longtime musical establishment in Jacksonville will be getting a financial boost to its afterschool program for low-income students.

The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra announced this week that it was awarded a $10,000 Getty Education and Community Investment Grant from the League of American Orchestras to help fund its Jump Start Strings program.

The organization has been providing the program to students from some of the district’s poorest schools in partnership with Communities in Schools, a national youth advocacy group. It’s an opportunity that many of the program's students might not otherwise get, said Jacksonville Symphony  Orchestra President of David Pierson.

“It’s extremely rewarding, especially being able to make instruments available to children who may not necessarily be able to afford them in their daily lives and give them the opportunity to enjoy the music,” he said.

Pickett Elementary School students Tyler Bradley,9, Kalyn Albertie, 10, and Antwane Baker, 10, appeared to enjoy each note they stroked to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on a recent afternoon.

The students were practicing it under the direction of Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra violinist Patrice Evans. They’ll be performing the number and two others alongside the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra next month.

Ten-year-old Antwane said he has been playing violin since second grade, at the ever-so gentle prompting of his grandmother.

“My nana made me do the violin,” he said as he sat, tuning the instrument. “When I started doing it, I felt like it was boring, but then, it was easy and I started liking it and now, it’s hard. I’m playing all these notes, but it’s awesome.”

Currently, the program works with students from four Title I schools: Woodland Acres, Pickett, S.A. Hull and Reynolds Lane elementary schools. There are about 20 to 25 students selected from each school, and those students are required to keep their grades up and their musical skills sharp.

The program initially began with three schools, grew to six but ultimately, condensed to four schools.

Attendance each year fluctuates between 80 to 100, said JSO’s Vice President of Education Tony Kamnikar.

And while there is a waiting list to get in, Kamnikar said there are no plans to expand the program to other schools at this point. Instead, the grant money will go toward enhancing lessons for students already in the program through more community performances and professional development.

“This was a way, when we started it, to give a chance to those students to learn these instruments and if they did want to continue, they at least had the basics to do that," he said. "So as we strengthen the program it’s only going to strengthen the chances of the kids that really want to pursue music."

That effort, in turn, is strengthening the community in which the students live, said parent and community coordinator Sharneka Rollins.

Her two daughters Zyk’kirria and Za’marria Simpson have spent the last four and five years, respectively, in the program. Now, they attend LaVilla School of the Arts and serve as mentors in Jump Start.

“It means a lot to the parents of the students, because when they see Zyk’kirria and Za’marria they’re always congratulating them,” she said.  “They say ‘Hey, thank you, Zyk’kirria and Za’marria' because their child got in the program from watching Zyk’kirria and Za’marria so it’s bringing all communities together.”