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I called my mom after it happened last September. And she almost cried.

Remember those eight years of piano lessons, I asked. Of course she did.

Did she remember those eight miserable years of piano lessons where she had to drag me kicking and screaming to the piano teacher? Those years of piano where it seemed like she was paying $60 an hour to argue with me for five? Of course; how could any of us forget?

Somehow over the past semester, more than a decade since that last triumphant piano lesson when I was 13, it all became worth it. I had avoided the instrument fairly successfully in the past 10 years. But when another staff member asked me last fall to teach a child whose behavior was finally improving and who desperately wanted to learn how to play, how could I refuse?

I printed out some basic sheet music online. I trudged down to the dormitory. “Mervin” and I sat down on the piano bench and I slowly taught him how to connect the musical notes to the keyboard. It was all coming back. Within half an hour, he was playing “Mary had a Little Lamb” on his own. And soon we had a crowd.

A gaggle of tough middle school boys in black heavy metal T-shirts and cool swaggers huddled around us, eagerly trying to point out to Mervin where the next note was supposed to be on the keyboard. When I asked them to keep quiet so Mervin could concentrate, they got louder, but this time to ask me to come back and teach them piano too.


Hi Jessica,

I have been enjoying and learning from your blog. I was thrilled to read your entry about the piano lessons. Please keep us updated about this... will you teach the other kids? (as if you don't have enough to do!) Is there a music program at the school? Music is so good for ALL kids, and kids with special needs find such an outlet in and self confidence from/with musical expression and learning. If the administration could somehow find a way to get a music teacher even part time, or one day a week, how wonderful it'd be for the kids! If you need resources or ideas, let me know, as I work at the National Association for Music Education in Va.
Hang in there! Your work is an inspiration! Sincerely, Sue R. Natoli

You are outstanding. Music can be the key to lots of academic as well as social lessons. You might want to check with your family in D.C. to see if they have any electronic keyboards that they would like to donate to your students. Many people have them taking up space in their closets after their children leave home. My husband was able to find several at St. Vincent de Paul and Goodwill stores.
Good luck and keep up your great work!
Diane Sundvik


Im really happy to have come across your blog. Im currently teaching English in Japan, but would like to begin teaching in schools when I return to the US. I have been interested in doing what youre doing for a couple years. Unfortunately, TFA wouldnt have me, but if you can give me some information on other routes to an ATC in your area I would really appreciate it.


My email address is m[email protected]

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