School hopes to make POGO stick

After-school music program offers education, lessons to Washington Middle School students

lpemberton@theolympian.comMarch 25, 2013 

Better grades in school.

Self-confidence.

Persistence and leadership.

Those are just a few of the outcomes that a new after-school music program at Washington Middle School in Olympia is designed to generate, organizers say.

In February, Play on Greater Olympia (POGO) began offering two hours of free, intensive classical music education every day after school to 15 students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to private lessons and orchestra programs.

It’s one of many efforts worldwide inspired by Venezuela’s el Sistem (“The System”) music-education program that began in 1975 with 11 kids in a garage and has spread music to more than 350,000 children in South America.

“It’s a social-transformation program,” said Greg Allison, who has taught band at Washington Middle School for 30 years and serves as POGO’s executive director. “It’s using music to change the life trajectory of these kids.”

POGO’s debut performance was last Tuesday at the Thurston County Commissioners’ meeting at the county courthouse.

“It was really fun,” said lead cello player Caine Pickett, 12, a sixth-grader.

“It was kind of nerve-wracking,” added violin player Sierra Rodriguez, 12, a sixth-grader. “But I liked it.”

POGO is an Olympia-based nonprofit funded by a mix of grants, private donations and in-kind gifts, Allison said.

“We have several instruments that were donated,” he said.

All the students receive scholarships, valued at about $350 a month, to participate in the program, according to POGO materials.

Each day begins with a snack. Next, students take an hour of group lessons led by professional music teachers who are paid for their time.

Allison said POGO’s magic happens in those small group lessons. Violin teacher Linda Pyle agrees.

“One of the big things is to have a constant connection with the kids,” she said. “It’s a big deal when somebody says, ‘I care enough about you to invest an hour with you every day after school.’”

During POGO’s final hour each day, Allison brings the entire group together for orchestra and music activities.

On a recent afternoon, Allison led a discussion, encouraging the kids to share their thoughts on the Thurston County Commissioners’ meeting performance, and the reasons they enjoy POGO.

Nameste Lattin, 13, said he liked the program because it’s given him a chance to learn how to play the cello and make new friends.

And even though POGO has only been operating about a month, the seventh-grader said he’s noticed some changes in his schoolwork, which he attributes to the music lessons.

“My handwriting is better and it’s easier to remember how to spell words,” Lattin said.

He said he’s also made friends with kids who he probably never would have known had it not been for POGO.

Eventually, POGO organizers hope to offer the program at other South Sound schools, Allison said.

ONLINE

To view a video of POGO’s performance for the Thurston County Commissioners, go to facebook.com/PlayOnGreaterOlympia.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com theolympian.com/edblog

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