Fostering Epic Parents
By Anne Campbell, Education Director, Catamount Arts/EPIC Music
EPIC Music, in St. Johnsbury, VT, was one of four El Sistema-inspired organizations recently invited to partner with a team of Duke University undergraduates to explore parent engagement in El Sistema USA member organizations. Parent engagement is an important goal for us; we have talked for more than a year about offering violin workshops for parents, so that they can understand our students’ challenges and learn how to help their children practice at home.
However, in our second year of operation, we have been focused primarily on engaging students, building curricula, and creating a safe and nurturing environment. Parent engagement has fallen lower on our list of priorities, as we struggle to find time for anything beyond the basics. Families are supportive of the program, but we have found it challenging to engage them beyond transporting their children and attending performances.
The partnership with Duke’s Bass Connections program, an interdisciplinary initiative that enables Duke students to apply classroom knowledge to real world problems in collaboration with faculty and community organizations, gave us an opportunity to readdress this priority. We were part of a project called “Music for Social Change: Research in Practice with Kidznotes and El Sistema USA.” Our student team’s focus was to understand the strengths and challenges of engaging parents in El Sistema-inspired programs. With the help of our student researcher, Dayna Price ’21, we decided to start parent violin lessons by incorporating them into our summer camp rather than offering separate workshops. We have two parents among our summer team of volunteer coaches, and they are now learning to play violin along with the children. We hope to expand this in the coming year and to develop some parent/child side-by-side performance opportunities.
We’re also exploring new ways to engage parents by tapping into their wide range of skills beyond violin performance. Amy, a parent who volunteered weekly with the program this year, created a memory card game to help students learn music symbols and developed an online survey form for us. Katrina, a seamstress, offered to stitch up a torn violin case. We realize we need a process for shining a light on our parents’ skills and finding ways to utilize those skills, and have moved this higher on our list of goals for the coming year.