A student’s philanthropic project drastically changed East Knox Local School District’s music programs for students grades 9-12 a few years ago, and today, the Office of Community Partnerships (OCP) hopes to expand it.
Five years ago, Wyatt Ernst ’18, with the support of Beta Theta Pi (Beta), organized a donation of 20 musical instruments to the district to help them to grow their underfunded music program. Musical instruments, particularly brass instruments which are fundamental to jazz music and marching bands, are typically very expensive to own and maintain. This made the band accessible to students who would otherwise be unable to afford to rent or buy an instrument. Today, music education at East Knox is thriving — students can borrow instruments to play and practice with if they need to, with financial accommodations. Students love the opportunity to be a part of the band; now that it has grown due to the donation, it has become a central part of the community, playing at pep rallies, ceremonies and other school events.
The instruments were worth $3,800 in total, $1,000 of which came from a fundraiser that the Betas ran. The rest came from about 20 donors that Ernst knew from his work at Preservation Hall in New Orleans. Preservation Hall is a music venue associated with a band and a non-profit organization that visits schools with underfunded arts programs and teaches kids to play instruments. This is what inspired Ernst to help strengthen music education for kids in East Knox. “I decided to take essentially what the Preservation Hall does, and I wanted to bring [that] to Knox County. I reached out to East Knox, to their principal, and then to their music teacher, and asked, ‘What do you guys need for the music program? How can I be of service?’” Ernst told the Collegian in 2017.
Sarah Jancura, the band director for East Knox Junior High, discussed the changes in the music program in an email interview with OCP, a group of Kenyon staff and students who work to foster positive relationships with Knox County and support the local community. “With the additional instruments that low income students can use, we have been able to allow more students to participate and find their love of music. For grades 5-12 this year, we have almost 100 students in the band program!” she wrote.
One student was particularly impacted by the music program. Miale Hurlow, a junior at East Knox, plans to study music education and eventually become a music teacher after she graduates because of her love of the band and its commitment to the community. “Music motivates me, and it brought forth love and a family that I get to spend the rest of my high school career with,” she told OCP.
OCP hopes to expand this fundraising effort so that music programs in the area can provide students with the resources to pursue their talents. It’s clear that music can be a deeply fundamental part of a student’s education: “Music has the ability to tie all the other subjects taught in our schools together while simultaneously teaching students how to work together for the same outcome,” Jancura said.