Partnerships, community support allow FWCS to add music education opportunities

Fort Wayne Community Schools has collaborated with locally based music business Sweetwater and its founder on two major music initiatives in recent weeks, and it’s about to embark on a third effort with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.

FWCS and The Phil plan to begin offering the El Sistema-inspired Club Orchestra strings program at Forest Park, Waynedale and South Wayne elementary schools, said Bruce Schneider, coordinator of the school district’s b instrumental program.

The school district also announced a partnership Monday that will bring the Little Kids Rock organization’s Modern Band program to six FWCS elementary schools — Abbett, Bloomingdale, Maplewood, Price, St. Joseph Central and Washington.

In late August, Chuck Surack, the founder of the locally based Sweetwater music business, and his wife, Lisa, donated $500,000 and 100 orchestra and band instruments to the Fort Wayne Community Schools Foundation for its b instrumental student music program for middle school students. The Suracks also helped the foundation kick off a $3 million fundraising drive to support the b instrumental program.

Music and the arts are a focus for FWCS because district leaders know the value of creative expression, Superintendent Wendy Robinson said.

In addition to providing another outlet for students’ talents, music programs teach discipline, teamwork and skill students can enjoy all of their lives, Robinson said.

Participation in music and fine arts programs also seems to help students academically, she said. In FWCS high school graduating classes, for example, most students ranked in the Top 10 academically participate in academic team competitions or band, she added.


But not every family can afford to provide their child with a musical instrument and music lessons, so FWCS tries to pull together the resources to help as many students take part as possible, Robinson said. That couldn’t happen, she said, without support from Sweetwater, The Phil and other local sources.

The Phil, for example, hopes to launch the Club Orchestra program Oct. 24 at Forest Park, Waynedale and South Wayne elementaries, said Jason Pearman, Phil education director. Students in grades 3-5 will meet after school 3-4:15 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to learn to play music on the violin or viola.

Donations will fund the program, so there is no cost to families, Pearman said. Parents of children at those schools who want more information or to register their child can email Aaron Samra, The Phil’s Club Orchestra program manager, at

If the Club Orchestra program goes well at those schools, it will be expanded to other elementary schools, FWCS’ Schneider said.

Pearman said the program is inspired by the El Sistema program, which was founded in Venezuela and gradually has expanded around the world.

El Sistema involves children in a music ensemble so they can experience being a contributor and an asset to their community, it said on the website of El Sistema USA, Along with the enjoyment of making music, children learn to be good citizens and to take a responsibility for improving the music making, both individually and as a group.


The partnership FWCS announced Monday with Sweetwater and Little Kids Rock of Verona, N.J., uses nonprofit Little Kids Rock’s Modern Band program to teach children to perform, improvise and compose music using music styles they know and like, such as rock, pop, reggae, hip hop and R&B, it said on the Little Kids Rock website,

The announcement took place at St. Joseph Central, where a group of fifth-grade students performed Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” before the announcement. The students started using the Modern Band program this school year, music teacher Laura McCoy said.

In Modern Band classes, students learn to make music with guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, drums, vocals, technology and computers, the Little Kids Rock website said. The organization, which also provides training to teachers and lesson materials, now has helped provide music classes for more than 320,000 students in 200 school districts nationwide.

To help St. Joseph Central with its Modern Band program, Little Kids Rock gave the school a drum set, electric bass guitar, electric guitar, 30 ukeleles and a sound system for vocalists. The equipment came from Sweetwater, which has become the national sponsor for Little Kids Rock and gives it a “generous” price on musical instrument purchases, said David Wish, Little Kids Rock founder and CEO.

In August, Chuck and Lisa Surack’s donation of $500,000 and orchestra and band instruments also provided a big boost to the Fort Wayne Community Schools Foundation’s b instrumental program. The program provides interested seventh-grade students with a musical instrument they can use all the way through high school.

The b instrumental program currently is offered in five FWCS middle schools — Lakeside, Miami, Shawnee, Lane and Northwood. Through the $3 million fundraising campaign, FWCS hopes to expand the program to all 11 of its middle schools.