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Guitar Society Donating Instruments, Lessons To Ferguson Schools

Guitar duo Noire, guitarists Thomas Flippin and Chris Mallett, visited Normandy Middle School in 2014. Normandy Middle School and Normandy High School have guitar programs; instruments and supplies were provided by the St. Louis Guitar Society and Beyond

The St. Louis Classical Guitar Society wants to help the Ferguson healing process, one guitar at a time.

Through grants, the Ferguson Guitar Initiative is donating guitars and lessons to fifth- and sixth-grade students in the Normandy and Ferguson-Florissant school districts starting next week.

“We have so many students in those two schools that are interested, we had to hold a lotto,” said Doug Erwin, fine arts content leader for the Ferguson-Florissant School District. “We have a waitlist for kids to take guitar.”

The guitar offers a chance to escape, Duane Foster, Normandy’s fine arts leader, told “Cityscape” host Steve Potter on Friday.

“The guitar has a certain equal concept with the headphones,” he said. “They kind of plug in and escape. I think the guitar has more of an ability to do that. It has a sense of intimacy that I think helps the child bring out things that they wouldn’t normally bring out.”

Normandy high school students were part of a pilot program that started in September, Foster said. Three months later, the 18 students in the program performed at the school’s winter concert.

But it’s not just about learning to play the guitar.

“Over a five-year period of time, every one of our high school students who took an additional year of fine arts beyond the state-mandated one-year requirement, scored higher on the ACT,” Erwin said. He is working toward his doctorate degree, and recently completed his dissertation on the subject. “Now the interesting thing was what happened when they double-dipped. If we had a kid who took art and music or choir and theater, those kids scored on average four points higher per year than the kid who just took one year of fine arts.”

Both the schools and the guitar society are already talking about expanding the program.

“Even though we’re starting it in fifth and sixth grade in the schools, we’d like to actually broaden into fourth grade and then actually connect next year into our middle school,” Erwin said. The expansion would allow students to follow a guitar curriculum. “Our problem right now is funding.”

“We’d like to help any school that would like to have a guitar program,” said Bill Ash, president of the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society.

The society also is seeking donors to expand the program. “For $150, we can get a really nice instrument,” he said. “We see ourselves as a community asset. We’re in the middle, between the community and the school districts.”

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.