WATERVILLE — High school music classes don’t usually feature hit songs by Van Halen and Adele and a room full of guitars, but that’s what was on display at Waterville Senior High School during a teaching workshop on Wednesday.

The workshop was part of a pilot program in Maine called Maine Kids Rock! Ten schools in the state were given $5,000 to buy instruments for teaching modern popular music in the hope they would reach more students and expand musical offerings. All told, the program made a $50,000 investment in Maine. But that didn’t stop 29 other schools from Portland to Fort Fairfield who did not receive funds from sending music teachers to the workshop.

“For teachers it’s a revolutionary approach,” said Scott Burstein, director of training at Little Kids Rock. It gets the teachers comfortable playing music they normally don’t play, but that students enjoy listening to, he said. “Most teachers get zero instruction on teaching popular music.”

The goal is to attract students who might otherwise not be interested in joining more traditional classes, like jazz or chorus, he said. In a regular school population, about 20 percent of students want to join a music class, he said, but every student listens to music in some capacity.

Teaching modern music can benefit kids who struggle socially or academically, as it puts something they are passionate about into a classroom setting, he said.

“This helps build kids to be successful and pull them into a school setting,” he said.

The program is a partnership between the Maine Department of Education and Little Kids Rock, a national nonprofit whose mission is to ensure that all public school children have the opportunity to unlock their inner music makers. It is the first time a state department of education has approached Little Kids Rock and then partnered with them, Burstein said. Usually his organization raises funds and designates a place to spend it. Little Kids Rock funded the Maine pilot.

Beth Lambert, visual and performing arts specialist at the Maine DOE, said schools eligible for the pilot had to have enrollments in which at least 50 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and must agree to offer modern band during the 2017-2018 school year, taught by certified music teachers.

Burstein said the turnout shows how passionate the teachers are. They came to learn to play, improvise on and compose with modern band instruments – guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals – in order to teach them in a classroom. They weren’t getting paid to be there, he said, and the majority didn’t get free instruments.

Burstein said the Little Kids Rock organization is international, but most of its work is done in the United States. The organization currently runs training in 37 states, and Burstein said that Lambert had seen one and approached Little Kids Rock to come to Maine.

The philosophy of the company, he said, is that the approach that matters more than what subject is being taught. That approach is to inspire kids to be confident, he said, and also to use things they’re interested in to increase their interest in learning.

“We’re just trying to help kids. Music is the tool we use for that,” he said.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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