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Apr. 04, 2013 @ 06:54 PM

MARK DOLEJS / Dispatch Staff

Noah Snowden, on trombone, and Aaliyah Townes, on flute, practice a song during band class at Henderson Collegiate Thursday morning.

MARK DOLEJS / Dispatch Staff

Kasey Polk directs one of his sixth-grade band classes recently implemented after receiving donated instruments.

Students at Henderson Collegiate are on a mission to make music.

For the first time since the school opened in August of 2010, a band class is being offered for sixth-grade students.

The class was made possible through donated instruments, many of which were provided through a site called DonorsChoose.org.

“It’s a website that a lot of educators can use,” said Caitlin Dietrich, director of development at Henderson Collegiate. “Basically, people from anywhere in the world can give money to a specific project that they’ve created for their class.”

Donations also came from outside community members including Cliff Rogers, president of The Rogers Group Inc., who installed carpet in the band room.

Noise proof foam insulation was also donated for use in the band room, and installed on the walls and ceiling by Ronald and Helene Todman, members of the school’s maintenance staff.

Since the beginning of the school year, Kasey Polk, the band teacher at Henderson Collegiate, has been working with the students, who didn’t physically start making sounds on their instruments until the end of January.

“We started with, I believe one of the most essential things, kind of an academic side to being a musician is being able to read music,” Polk said. “So, the first half of the school year we spent a lot of time just understanding music theory, how to read the music, how to compose their own music, things like that.”

Polk, a first-year teacher and graduate of North Carolina A&T, has a bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance and electronic music. He found his way to Henderson Collegiate through Teach For America.

“I have a background in music so it’s a perfect fit,” Polk said.

While band class is currently a mandatory course, offered only to sixth-grade students, the plan is to make it an optional elective course for future seventh- and eighth-grade students.

According to Polk, his group of young musicians have learned five different pitches on their instruments. On Thursday, students played a simple tune using their newly learned notes.

“They were playing a tune called Hymn Tune,” Polk said. “This is basically to help them master playing those before we move on to more.”

Imani Stewart, a clarinet player, has noticed a vast improvement in her skill level since she first began.

“At first I sounded like a duck because I didn’t know how to do it right,” Stewart said. “I realize it’s like totally different now, in a good way. Mr. Polk says I’m one of the strongest clarinet players.”

Working with students that are eager to learn a new skill has made it easier for Polk to mold his students into musicians.

“The biggest thing is that they’re just open and they’re ready to learn,” Polk said. “They’re hungry. That’s the biggest part about it.”

Pheonix Stephens, who plays flute, enjoys band class because it’s provided her with a new challenge, and provides her a break from ordinary academic courses.

“I chose the flute because it’s one of the most hardest instruments to play, and I wanted to be challenged,” Stephens said. “I enjoy it because usually you are sitting down in classes and just learning and getting information.

“In this class he lets you sit and learn by yourself first, and then he teaches you, so you get to try it and you get to show him how much you know.”

While students were given some option on deciding what instrument to play, Polk assisted with his expertise, helping them understand what would fit them best.

“It’s perfect for my size,” said trombone player Noah Snowden. “I decided on the trombone because every time I hear it in a band it sounds really good.

“He said it would be hard for us because we have to really move our slides really fast to keep up with the notes and the band.”

Being creative and expressive are important aspects of the class Polk urges students to embrace.

“It’s a different type of class,” Polk said. “I like to kind of change it up for them, and let them know this is a place where they can be creative and express however they’re feeling throughout the day.”

By the year’s end, Polk, who has already seen major growth in his students, hopes to have them ready for a performance.

“We’re on track for it now,” Polk said. “I’m really proud of them. They’re working hard.”
Contact the writer at amauser@hendersondispatch.com.

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