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Changemaker Highlight of the Week: Joshua Academy Band Project

Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Since 2019, a small number of students in University of Evansville's Music Conservatory have been leading a new band program at Joshua Academy in Evansville, Indiana. The group took a temporary hiatus in 2020 through the pandemic, but picked the program back up in 2021 and have steadily grown its participation and capabilities.

Joshua Academy principal Arvenda McDonald reached out to UE Music Conservatory faculty member Fran Vile, UE Clinical Assistant Professor of Music, with an idea to start a band program at the academy. She had found a closet filled with old instruments and wondered about the possibility.

Fran in turn reached out to Erin Lewis, Executive Director of UE's Center for Innovation & Change and said "Is this possible?" And Erin said, "Let's make it a ChangeLab." Fran took it from there, and instrumental music education students began the Joshua Academy band program in the fall of 2019.

A ChangeLab is a project-based course offered at the University of Evansville where students can earn academic credit while working on passion projects that help improve the community. So far this year there are 20 ChangeLabs being offered on topics ranging from music education, food access, data analytics for the National Forest Service, environmental sustainability, and many more. More than 100 students are registered in these courses.

For this course, UE music education students worked with Joshua Academy to grow a music program from the ground up. Beginning with assessing viability of current instruments to recruiting the first few students to the program, and even arranging music to suit their capabilities, the project has been a success so far.

"Music is flourishing at Joshua Academy," said Will McDonner, a senior music education major at UE. He and his colleague Luke Robertson, also a senior music education major, have led the project beginning in 2021.

The group meets at 7:00 in the morning before classes begin. Together, with Vile's advice, McDonner and Robertson have navigated challenges of recruiting, scheduling, communicating between students and parents, and finally teaching students what music is and how to read it and play an instrument.

It doesn't always go smoothly, and plans don't always work out the way they expect. But that hasn't kept the program from being successful. When things get particularly challenging, McDonner says, "We're going to push ahead and see how much music we can make."

In its first semester, six Joshua Academy students "met" instruments and chose their favorite to learn, practiced and rehearsed regularly, and then performed a concert at the end of the year. The following semester, the group nearly doubled. And, thanks to grant funding received by the school, several brand-new instruments were made available.

"The real-world experience in music education is invaluable," said Vile. "Students leading this program hope to teach music professionally and building this band program has given them experiences that they would never get reading textbooks and studying theory in the classroom."

"We are so impressed and proud of what these students have accomplished," said Lewis. "These types of community-building projects are what ChangeLab is all about. Teaching young people how to read music and play instruments is an experience that will benefit them for years to come."

The Fall 2023 semester will be the third semester for this program. This program has been nominated for a Leadership Everyone award.

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