There has long been concern in our country over the loss of music and arts programs in our schools. Studies have been done that show the positive effect of participation in the arts, but small budgets and well-meaning educators often put arts last in their priorities. What are parents to do when their school does not offer the arts programs they need for their children? Laurie DeKoch decided to solve the problem herself. With partner Shirish Mulherkar, a dedicated group of board members and Clarence Acox, renowned director of Garfield High School jazz ensembles, she founded Seattle JazzED in 2010.
Laurie DeKoch grew up with music, so she has first-hand experience with its importance in the life of a child. After seeing the experiences her kids had in their school music program, she decided to use her arts management background to bring their experiences to a wider audience. “My kids started in a middle school that had 500 kids in music...All the kids from the low-income neighborhoods were coming in with no music experience” says DeKoch. Seattle JazzED, referred to as JazzED by those close to the program, works closely with Seattle public schools. DeKoch does not intend to replace school music programs, but to add to them, especially for those students in underfunded schools. “We're here to support and grow music ed. In all areas. We have one kid that comes from Olympia, 60 miles away ” she says. JazzED's outreach includes targeted outreach to under-served communities, and the board consists of people who know how to fund raise to provide scholarships to those in need. Forty percent of kids in the program receive some kind of scholarship, a number that is up since the founding of JazzED. JazzED also makes sure to reach out to a diverse ecosystem of schools; public and private schools as well as home schoolers. “It's not as simple as giving a kid a trumpet and a scholarship. There are so many barriers that our low-income students face. We're currently working with social services to help kids.”
Parents and students have responded well to the program, coming from as far away as Olympia, 60 miles away from JazzED. For parent Diedre DiSilva, JazzED has been a must. Her kids were both taking piano lessons, and her daughter played trumpet, but they lacked other opportunities since their private school didn't have a band. “(JazzED has) among the best music educators in the city of Seattle. I knew she was going to get an outstanding music education. They were going to push her. This wasn't just an enrichment program. They learn a lot about what they're capable of”
“JazzED propelled them, gave them a sense of belonging, of team work, gave their music an exponential push. If my daughter had stayed with her middle school band, she wouldn't have felt this type of empowerment” Silva descibes the program as well-managed, with music theory classes offered and 2-3 regular concerts a year. In addition to that, there are performances at local jazz club, The Royal Room. Issac Roberts, a participant in JazzED's Summer Jazz Ambassadors, also describes leadership experiences through JazzED. He had several performances throughout the summer, playing for kids. “That was one of my favorite parts”, says Roberts “sharing my knowledge with the youth, trying to inspire them. And that was really my first experience with jazz”.
For as many years as it's been talked about, arts has been related to higher academic performance, staying out of trouble and general life and leadership skills. “JazzED propelled them, gave them a sense of belonging, of team work, gave their music an exponential push. If my daughter had stayed with her middle school band, she wouldn't have felt this type of empowerment” says Sliva. Her daughter is headed to Aviation High School next year, a school rich in math and science, but lacking a music program. The Seattle school districts have an arts requirement, but the requirement can be met with work outside of the traditional school environment. That requirement could be met easily with her daughter's private music lessons, but she will stay with JazzED. “I think that she will always have this. Being a part of a jazz band isn't just checking a box. It is so much more important to her to continue JazzED” says Silva.
Community-based programs like Seattle JazzEd are essential to kids in underfunded school music programs and as a place for home schoolers to join with other creative-minded individuals. Seattle JazzEd is a great example of a group of dedicated citizens banding together to make a difference. JazzEd has great plans for the future, stabalizing infrastructure while building a bigger presence in local and national communities. There is even talk of entering competitions like The Essentially Ellington Competition, which has been won before by ensembles like those at Seattle JazzEd.