Community partner highlight: The Armstrong Community Music School

Written by Piper Stege Nelson

A closeup of a violinTo provide the best possible support for survivors, we work with an array of partners in the community – like-minded associations working on policy change, government and law enforcement, as well as donors like you. This month, we want to highlight one of our courageous partners that generously works with our kiddos to heal through music.

The Armstrong Community Music School

For the last 18 years, the Armstrong Community Music School has provided free musical instruction to children at SAFE. They started with the babies and toddlers in our Family Tree child development center, playing music and teaching our young ones little songs.

But when they learned that SAFE’s school did not have a music class, the heroes at the Armstrong school applied for a grant specifically so they could provide music to more SAFE kids. They now teach the elementary school kids at SAFE’s school, providing group ukulele and general music lessons for the K-6th graders.

Anne is an Armstrong teacher, a pianist and violinist who works with the kids at SAFE.

“I feel so much love from the kids there, even after they have been through so much. SAFE is such a loving environment, an amazing magical place.” — Anne, Armstrong music teacher

Anne talks about a little girl who was screaming and crying and so sad in class, obviously torn apart and having a horrible day. Toward the end of class, Anne went to give the little girl a hug and, knowing it was her favorite, told her that she would play her favorite Moana song for her – “How Far I’ll Go.”

The little girl began to sing with Anne and by the end of the song was smiling.

“When I go to SAFE,” Anne says, “it is my favorite time of the week.”

She told another story, about a little girl who spoke Spanish. She was always very quiet in class and did not participate at all. But one afternoon, Anne sidled up to her and began to speak to her in Spanish. The little girl began to smile and slowly over time began to join in on the songs.

Another Armstrong teacher, Anthony, says he feels strongly that music can play a strong role in helping kids heal. He knows that trauma-informed interactions with kiddos are key, particularly in finding a way to connect with a kid even when they are having a bad day.

Anthony, who is a guitarist, describes a student, Joseph, who was a bit shy and didn’t seem to be able to come out of his shell. It took a few weeks of Anthony coming to class and just being open, but eventually Joseph started to talk with Anthony about his favorite music, his favorite songs. Anthony discovered that Joseph didn’t just like music, but that he loved to beatbox.  Eventually the class recorded a song together, featuring Joseph’s beatboxing.

Music and beyond

This spring the teachers selected three promising students to continue their studies; each student received their own ukulele and private lessons at SAFE. And in the fall the Armstrong school hopes to move a keyboard into the SAFE school at our Grove Boulevard campus so they can teach kids the piano.

As Anthony explains, kids don’t always have the tools communicate how they’re feeling. But the Armstrong music teachers are helping the kids in our care express themselves each week in music class.