Big House Youth Jam
Before The Big House even opened its doors, it was already reaching out to economically disadvantaged children in the Macon, Georgia community with a music education program.
Big House Youth Jam, started in January 2009, was inspired by the percussion classes that are part of the successful Chicago program,, Rock for Kids Youth Jam. Experienced musicians provide free hand drumming to third through fifth graders in an after school program at two public elementary schools.
“The three main tenets of our program are 1) Respect, 2) Teamwork and 3) Listening. We introduce these concepts the first day and, by reviewing them regularly, reinforce structure in young lives that may otherwise have had little or no structure. Many students come from backgrounds or are currently in situations where they receive very little positive reinforcement. Our drumming program first focuses on the positive: students’ strengths, joys, ability to share. Because of this approach, the children are more receptive to learning skills such as self discipline, dealing with frustration or anger, and communicating with peers and adults.”
Big House Youth Jam Music Director Wes Stephens
Highly successful since it started at Brookdale Elementary School where 100 percent of the children are economically disadvantaged and thus considered at-risk, Big Youth Youth Jam expanded in the fall of 2010 to a second elementary school, L.H. Williams. Williams is located in the Pleasant Hill community where Little Richard grew up. It is one of the poorest and most crime ridden neighborhoods in Macon. Ninety-eight percent of the students at Williams are from economically disadvantaged homes.
The Big House program is designed not only to teach music skills, but also to help address the social and educational needs of at-risk children. The arts are proven to be an effective way to improve academic achievement especially of at-risk students, enhance motivation and attendance at school and self esteem. Other goals are to development teamwork skills and discipline, boost self expression and help children learn about their heritage and discover new interests. Classes meet national and state music standards.
Performance opportunities are provided at the end of each school year to give children the opportunity to work toward a goal as well as to display the knowledge and technique they have built over the course of their studies. Public performances can also have a positive impact on students by instilling a sense of camaraderie and pride in the students.
“Through the drumming classes, the Big House Foundation has provided an alternative and fun way for our children to learn mathematics principles, leadership, teamwork and musical expression. The students also have had the opportunity to work and bond with professional musicians who are positive role models. This experience has been tremendously valuable to the students.”
Bibb County Public Schools After School Program Office
- Music Director Wes Stephens is an accomplished percussionist with extensive experience working with children. He is among the first dozen professionals and educators in the Southeast to graduate as a Therapeutic Drumming Instructor, certified by Youth Villages-Inner Harbour. Tom Harris, director for the past 14 years, developed this year-long training process and focuses on traditional West African djembe music. The program is skill based, provides structure for at-risk children, and deals with a wide variety of behavioral and emotional situations. Stephens is sldo a drum circle instructor and facilitator for adult cancer survivors at the Medical Center of Central Georgia’s Wellness Center .
- Senior percussion performance student Emily Odom is an instructor at Brookdale Elementary School.
- Program Coordinator Susan Long is an experienced developer of educational programs for children and former Executive Director of Macon 2000 Partnership for Excellence in Education.
What is your favorite thing about Big House Youth Jam:
- All the sound and rhythm
- Playing instruments and singing songs
- Your learn stuff
What did you learn?
- A lot of respect and self control
- To share and be respectful
- How to respect and play other instruments
If you were going to tell another student about the music class and why they should or shouldn’t join, what would you tell them?
- You should be there because it’s fun.
- You should join us cause you learn a lot there.
Big House Youth Jam is funded in part by the City of Macon through the Purchase of Arts Services Grant administered by Macon Arts Alliance.