With just a couple of days left in the school year, a group of students at North Park Elementary was in the mood to rock out.
The timing was right, but it wasn’t just an impromptu performance as the kids played a cover of the American Authors hit “Best Day of My Life” to a packed house in one of the school’s portable units.
For the previous two months, North Park teacher Connie Toone had been coaching the budding musicians on vocals, drums, bass, keyboards and other instruments. Toone said the students picked up the concept of a rock band with surprising quickness.
“In eight weeks we were able to do this,” she said following the performance on Wednesday, May 29. “If you had heard us on our first day, you would say ‘yeah!’”
The seed was planted last fall, when Toone and other teachers from around the Box Elder School District attended a workshop in Brigham City presented by Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit with a mission of getting more musical training into schools that don’t always have funding for enough instruments, or time for the proper instruction.
Little Kids Rock teams up with business sponsors around the country, in this case Niagara Bottling, who provide the instruments. The organization sends instructors who put on workshops for teachers, who in turn pass on what they have learned to their students.
“When the instruments came, then we decided on a plan,” Toone said. “(The students) don’t have a music prep time in their day, so we decided to do it as an after-school club.”
The school had some instruments available, but the donation from Niagara allowed them to get a drum set, electric bass and other equipment to round out the ensemble. In some cases they had to improvise, such as when they brought in ukuleles after realizing that many of the kids’ hands aren’t yet large enough to handle a full-size guitar.
Several other schools in the area, from elementary to high school, also took advantage of the Little Kids Rock program in their classrooms during the recently ended school year.
In order to receive instruments through the program, someone has to commit to leading the instructional effort. Toone took on the role in addition to her regular job as an instructional math coach at North Park.
“The instruments will be here as long as someone runs the program,” she said. “If I choose not to do it and no one else picks it up, then the instruments go to a school that is doing the program, so the instruments are always in use.”
Anna Thompson, the mother of one of the kids in the band, also volunteered her time to help keep the effort organized and on point.
“I think it’s great for them to be involved in music,” Thompson said. “They’ll have a little bit of instruction beforehand, so band teachers will be thanking us later.”
Toone agreed that getting the kids involved earlier than they otherwise would will help provide a foundation as they continue their musical education, if they choose to do so.
“We’ll give them a taste and send them on to people who know a lot more about it,” she said.
Also, she said it’s not just the students who get something out of it. Toone has been with the school district for 25 years, taught choir at Alice C. Harris Intermediate for a long time, and has been giving piano lessons since she was 18 — but she still learned plenty from the experience.
“Keyboards weren’t a problem for me, but I had to learn how to play all the other instruments,” she said. “I’m just one step ahead of the kids.”
With the constant struggle of tight resources in public education, Toone said programs like Little Kids Rock, and the sponsors that support it, provide a welcome and much-needed service.
“It’s nice to be able to give students something in school that is tending to be cut out now. There isn’t as much time for the arts as we focus on the core subjects,” she said. “For them to have this opportunity to find a new talent, and to feel like they were ‘cool’ enough to do something like this, it has really boosted their self esteem — and we’re thrilled whenever that happens.”