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Inmates help music teacher in Juneau make instruments for students to take home

Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 7:31 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Teaching students online poses a unique challenge for music teachers who usually rely on classroom instruments. Fortunately, in Juneau, music teachers are supported by an organization called Juneau Alaska Music Matters.

Through the JAMM program, kindergarteners and first graders start their music education by learning to play the violin. The project starts by creating a paper mache instrument but teachers decided, that method was not conducive to online learning and neither was the idea to send the expensive violins home.

“Sending a real violin home to families just isn’t a realistic idea,” says Rebecca Ricker, a music teacher at Riverbend Elementary. “Kindergarteners can’t be expected to take care of a delicate instrument on their own.”

JAMM’s Executive Director Meghan Johnson came up with the idea to create xylophones for students for take home use. The problem was that buying instruments for every student at the school from kindergarten through first grade would be expensive. That is when she had a pretty out-of-the-ordinary idea.

“There is all sorts of inspiration around the globe where people are making instruments out of necessity out of whatever they have but we are lucky enough to have a prison with a hobby shop and so I was talking with Sgt. Derrick Johnson who said, you know we have a hobby shop here we have these workers, inmates who are in there all day who can totally make these and it would be easy and it would give them something different to do and unique, creative, positive, and the inmates would like that,” says Johnson.

JAMM worked with the prison officials at Lemon Creek Correctional Center to create a template and the prototype was a success. The inmates then got to work creating the instruments for the kids.

“One of the officers that oversees the shop said they had wood pallets lying around. They were actually able to create the pallets out of the wood that was just sitting there and would have been wasted,” says Johnson.

Students start with a paper xylophone and slowly earn each part of the instrument through completing their school work. The school hopes to distribute the instruments at the start of the new year. JAMM’s director says even if the students head back to the classroom, they will easily transition back to using the violins.

”The xylophone notes are the same notes the kids would be learning on the violin. We were really intentional about the keys so right now the kids are reading and playing some of the same music they would have on the violin. If they do transition back it would be easy,” says Johnson.

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