UE, students help reinstate local music program

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Joshua Academy’s music program was disbanded in 2017 due to a lack of funding but has been brought back to life with the help of students from the University of Evansville.

At the start of the academic year, a group of UE students started working wtih staff and students at the Evansville charter school to help reestablish their music program. 

UE Music Adjunct Professor Greg Keith and six of his students have been working with the program since early September. 

“Our ultimate belief is that all our students should have access to a music education — whether that’s voice or instrumental,” Keith said. “If students want to get instrumental training, we want to give it to them.”

The partnership between the two schools started with a discussion between UE President Christopher Pietruszkiewicz and Joshua Academy Principal Arveneda McDonald. They met in the summer to talk about how UE could help develop programs at the charter school that serves students from preschool through eighth grade.

McDonald said she was interested in bringing back Joshua Academy’s music program, as the school already had space and instruments for students. After UE administrators agreed to fully fund the school’s program, Keith was asked to lead its development.

In exchange for the program’s funding, UE students receive hands-on experience and credit for their music education class, a requirement all music education students take their junior and senior years.

Students from UE’s music program joined the university’s efforts, agreeing to work Monday and Wednesday mornings at Joshua Academy every week during the school year.

On most days, McDonald said, there are up to 12 Joshua Academy students in grades 5 to 7 who participate in the music class. In time, she hopes to expand the program adding more students and grades.  

“I’m excited because it’s a great opportunity for students,” she said. “I believe exposure and opportunity for them to learn, see and experience as many things as possible is the key to true education. So, this just opens that door for them.

“If we can grow the program and get students and parents involved, I think it would make the Joshua community that much better.”

The music program offers students the opportunity to learn how to play the flute, clarinet, alto saxophone, trumpet and trombone. And as enrollment and interest increases, Keith said he’s looking to have them work with string instruments as well. 

Devyn Haas, a senior music student at UE, said her time working with Joshua Academy students has been rewarding. She’s not only gained teaching experience but also seen tremendous progress from students. 

“It feels nice because you see the kids light up,” Haas said. “You see them start playing their instrument, and they’re like ‘OK, I can actually do this and do something that’s amazing.’ You see them, and you just want to keep giving them that light because it’s leading them down a great path. Not only just in music but academics as well.”

Keith talked to McDonald about having Joshua Academy students perform at events. Around the holiday season he’s hopeful there’s a concert at Joshua Academy to showcase their hard work. He’s even considered having them perform at the Old National Events Plaza. 

Keith said students from UE’s music program will continue working with Joshua Academy students through December and regroup before the start of the spring semester. Next year he intends on bringing a new group of UE students to continue helping the school’s music program grow.

“That’s what’s great about having these motivated kids and principal here,” Keith said. “We’ve got the flexibility to make the changes that we need to make to make it a success. It’s not going to be as great as it can be in a year, but in a couple of years it can.” 

— Courier & Press

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