Children in the Kids 4 Harmony after-school program can learn violin, viola and cello.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The lower levels of Brayton Elementary School were filled with music making on Friday afternoon.
Kids were scattered about practicing on violins or banging away on drums to learn beats. It sounded noisy but these kids were getting down the fundamentals that will create harmony.
Kids 4 Harmony is an after-school program of Berkshire Children & Families that offers lessons in viola, violin and cello to children in North Adams and Pittsfield. It is reliant on donations to keep it going and, on Friday, the organization was presented with a $2,000 check from Williamstown's A Better Community organization.
Jane Frado of A Better Community said her organization holds several clothing sales a year and donates the funds to local programs that improve the lives of community members. The group had formerly been known as A Better Chance and focused on bringing unserved minority children to Williamstown to attend high school here.
"It's about three years since A Better Chance closed," Frado said. "Our board members, about 10 of us, vet agencies that are helping the community, families, like food pantries and Berkshire Children & Families. ...
"I insisted on this one," she laughed. "This is our second year and I think we gave $2,000 last year and another $1,000 later."
About 20 children participate regularly in the North Adams program and another 40 in Pittsfield.
"Because this program is entirely supported by private donations, Berkshire Children & Families and Kids 4 Harmony are really excited to work with organizations like A Better Community because that's what we're trying to do is build a better community with the kids," said Bethany Pelletier of BFC. "You know, they're not just listening to music, they're learning resiliency, they're learning that when you work hard, you can accomplish things. ...
"It opens a world of doors and it really brings the community together when they do performances throughout Berkshire County."
The program offers opportunities for children to participate in mentoring and music programs ranging from the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles to the Days in the Arts residential program at Tanglewood. They are also piloting a musical training app, Meludia.
The children also have participated in the Community Intergenerational Action Orchestra under the direction of James Bergin at St. John's Episcopal Church in Williamstown and in composing for a Williamstown Theatre Festival-sponsored event.
Noella Carlow, 21st Century site coordinator for the North Adams Public Schools, said family engagement is a mandated piece of the school district's after-school program. Kids 4 Harmony fills that role with the Kathy Quinn of BCF who works with families on social emotional aspects.
"That's the hardest piece really, but we've pulled several of the parents in on a consistent basis," Carlow said. "They attend all the events, and we provide transportation and ... there's goals that these kids have and those goals bubble up in a variety of ways and it's a win-win situation."
The program started in North Adams three or four years ago and begins with children in second or third grade and currently runs through Grade 7 although the organization would like to follow the students as they enter into high school. Pelletier said the funding would have to be in place to expand.
"This program has been so successful because we've had such a great partnership with the North Adams Public Schools and working with Noella has been such a treat," said Alicia Stephenson, program director, as her students took a break from drumming.
Kaylee Lescarbeau said she's been playing the violin for about three years. "I love it," she said, enthusiastically nodding her head "yes" when asked if she wants to continue.
"It's wonderful to start so young ... what appealed to me, with an organization like mine, is to see it in action," Frado said. "This is what we want to do. And we want to start with young families and help them, you want them to be able to give back at some point in their lives. Just seeing that is to me, how can you not support them?"
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