ACG Education now serves fifty Austin elementary, middle and high schools, including the Travis County Juvenile Justice Center and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We are providing service in more local schools than ever before, with over 3,000 students enrolled, and with the highest level of consistency in student outcomes.

Our primary job is to make these programs work well. Once a school or the district decides they want to start a guitar program or improve an existing one, they contact our organization. Our team becomes extensively engaged in every aspect of the program—from curriculum and lesson planning to teacher training, getting guitars into student hands, creating performance opportunities, guest artist experiences, and much more.

None of this would be possible without the support of friends in the community like you. Thank you!

In this report we have tried to give a snapshot of the status of the various areas of our education services. We hope you enjoy reading about this work, and we welcome your feedback.

Local Service

We appear to have reached a “tipping point” in the Austin school-based teaching community with regard to classical guitar education quality.

To explain this statement, we offer a brief and simplified chronological history of our program since it began in 2001. For the first three years, until 2004, we identified and defined our primary needs to elevate school-based guitar teaching quality to the same levels as established programs like choir, orchestra, and band. From 2004 to 2008 we articulated and published our solution to meet those needs in the form of From 2008 to 2014, we expanded our programs, school by school, working to establish teaching standards, student expectations, and a culture of excellence among the Austin teachers with whom we work. This year, as we serve more schools, teachers, and students than ever before, we are seeing a new level of commitment from our teachers—as active participants in creating that culture of excellence we have sought for so many years. Although the demands for our services are greater than ever, the results, in terms of student performance outcomes, are more consistent than they’ve ever been.

A big success factor beyond our training, curriculum, and daily intervention, is district-wide evaluation and performance. For three years our team has worked extensively to develop and administer an annual Concert and Sight-Reading Contest modeled after University Interscholastic League (UIL) contests for band and orchestra. This year, UIL has voted to add our contest as an official pilot event (April 22nd and 23rd, all day). Our team also establishes standards and repertoire, holds auditions for, and directs All City Guitar Event, designed to bring together exemplary students from each of the district’s middle and high schools for a showcase performance experience (Tuesday, February 3rd at 7pm).

We began our individual lessons program for low-income students in 2001. Since then, many of our most striking personal success stories have been a direct result of these significant commitments to individuals who exhibit need and a drive to make the most of individual instruction. Students in this program receive free weekly instruction throughout the year on an ongoing basis until they graduate, provided they make satisfactory progress.

Last May, six of our students receiving individual lessons at Travis High School graduated and were accepted to college with significant scholarships. One was the first in her family ever to attend college. We have continued our commitment to Travis High School, and have added Mendez Middle School this past fall. This month we will also begin significant individual lesson programs at KIPP Austin charter school and Crockett High School.

Our greatest area of expansion is in elementary schools, where we currently provide service in 20 locations. One of our newest teachers, Hilary Adamson from Cunningham Elementary, recently wrote:

I have worked with many organizations throughout my 17 years of teaching, and Austin Classical Guitar stands out above the rest by leaps and bounds. Austin Classical Guitar has been with us every step of the way.

One of our veteran middle school teachers, Dixie Yoder, decided to begin teaching elementary school guitar this year. In December she asked her students to write about guitar class. Here are some of our favorite responses:

What I love playing about guitar is that you get to feel free. I like hearing the silence at the end of the song…it’s magical. -Paty, 5th grade

When I play the guitar with others I feel like a team. We could be the best group ever and people will like watching our group when we grow up. -Leilani, 5th grade

What I love about playing the guitar is that it calms me down when I am angry, sad, or embarrassed. -Marco, 5th grade

At first I didn’t think that just playing one string at a time would make a good sound, but it turned into a wonderful sound. I recommend that everyone try it. -Andrea, 5th grade

When I started playing the guitar I wasn’t good…but nobody is perfect. Now I’m playing it right. -Marcos, 5th grade

Playing guitars is my favorite part of the day. -Zade, 5th grade

National Service

2014 saw a large jump forward in our national and international service as well. Most significantly, our team traveled to Atlanta, St. Louis, and Houston for formal training sessions in addition to our nationally-attended training held in Austin.

Now that we are in January, we can see significant results of our trainings, especially in Houston and St. Louis. Our Houston affiliates added eight new elementary and middle school programs this month, after following a strategy we devised together in August wherein local veteran teachers gave weekly tutorials for prospective teachers throughout the fall. Our St. Louis trainees established four new programs this month as well, including two in the Ferguson School District. They are hoping to achieve a far greater presence in the near future, and we are in constant and direct communication on a range of topics from advocacy to strategic planning.

The lead teacher from St. Louis, Courtney James, spent three days with our team in early December and wrote:

Most impressive is the dedication to the students in their programs and to their constant goal of delivering the highest quality music education for classical guitar. …They model lessons in the classrooms, they attend concerts, advocate for best teaching practices and assist by directing, mentoring teachers, and working with individual students. It is clear what a positive impact this has on the quality of the guitar programs. While I was observing, I was of course thinking of how I could apply what I witnessed in Austin to the St Louis public schools….

William Ash, Director of St. Louis Classical Guitar Society, wrote this last summer:

We have been studying and following [Austin Classical Guitar’s] educational program since 2010. We’ve used their in a pilot program here at Grand Center Arts Academy, a program that we have funded, with great results. The students love the repertoire, and were able to do a convincing ensemble performance at the end of three different semesters…. Austin Classical Guitar is providing the model of success in Austin for the guitar community throughout the United States, and we want to emulate it here.

In assisting other communities we have identified a new type of need: Leadership Training. In communities across the United States, including New York, Cleveland, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco, we are recognizing two types of community servants—teachers and community leaders. Our training sessions and curriculum have advanced as powerful tools for developing teachers, but we have yet to articulate a training approach for leaders. The two quotations above exemplify these two types of community servants, the former, Courtney James, is a teacher who will benefit from Teacher Training, while the latter, William Ash, is a community leader who will benefit from Leadership Training.

To meet this need, we will offer our first Leadership Seminar, March 1st through 3rd in Austin, for about ten leaders from around the US who are currently seeking guidance.

Conferences and Publications

Our team is increasingly called upon to contribute written material for the nation’s education and trade journals. We are also regularly invited to give presentations and workshops at state and national music education conferences. Travis Marcum and Eric Pearson presented a three-hour workshop in October (2014) for the National Association for Music Education in Nashville, Tennessee—this was our second year to present at this conference. In March (2015) Jeremy Osborne and Eric Pearson will present for American String Teacher Association in Salt Lake City. Texas Music Educators Association has asked our team to give an entire day of presentations on Saturday, February 14th (2015) including the state’s first Texas Guitar Directors Summit.

Travis Marcum published “Artistry in Lockdown: Transformative Music Experiences for Students in Juvenile Detention,” in the December 2014 issue of the peer-reviewed Music Education Journal (MEJ, available on request). The March 2015 issue of Classical Guitar Magazine plans a feature on Austin Classical Guitar and our work in education.

Special Programs

In 2014 our Composer in Residence, Joseph V. Williams II, wrote several concert works and also created a composition project for students at Crockett High School. One student, Ike Katula, wrote a work for guitar orchestra that was premiered by Austin Classical Guitar Youth Orchestra. The work is called Argetilean Dance, and the premiere performance can be viewed on Austin Classical Guitar’s YouTube channel.

In 2014, our work at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center continued to thrive—so much so that we were asked to double our service there in January 2015. Our first audio recording of students in that facility was made in December 2014 (available on request), and Travis Marcum’s work at Gardner Betts formed the research basis of his December 2014 MEJ article.

In spring 2014 we carried out our first collaboration with Carnegie Hall, through which we implemented their Lullaby Project intervention, designed for at-risk young women experiencing unplanned pregnancy. The project involved pairing each young woman with a teaching artist, who then engaged each mother in writing a lullaby for her child, recording the lullaby, and sharing the recorded product with her family or friends. We carried out the project in collaboration with Austin’s Any Baby Can.

This spring we have established a new collaboration with Annunciation Maternity Home, a nonprofit residential facility providing free long-term housing and services for at risk young women experiencing unplanned pregnancy. In our work at Annunciation, we are combining our long-term educational model with the Lullaby Project, and we will work on an ongoing basis with the clients there. Our instructor, Dr. Janet Grohovac, began the program this month with eleven young women.

Austin Classical Guitar Youth Orchestra began its second full year in September 2014. This auditioned, community-wide orchestra for young people premiered its third new work to an audience of over 400 in November. This spring, ACGYO will collaborate with Conspirare Youth Choir to perform in the 3,000-seat Bass Concert Hall as featured artists on the April 18th finale of our International Series.

Our Austin Community College scholarship recipient is Eric McKeefer. Eric is a graduate of our guitar program at Austin High School. He wrote us a wonderful letter of thanks after receiving his full scholarship to ACC:

Your wonderful gift truly gives me hope in fulfilling my dreams as a musician and opens many doorways for my future as a guitarist. You, Austin Classical Guitar, are the people who make it possible for guitarists like me to succeed after high school and beyond, but more importantly you help make our dreams come true.

Looking Ahead

We eagerly anticipate the launch of our new website, planned for February 2015. The new site will have many capabilities and enhanced functionality, and we foresee a tool that will connect our international users in a dynamic forum—establishing a higher degree of collaboration. Our goal is to foster an international “culture of excellence,” similar to what has been established locally.

As of the writing of this report, we have not scheduled 2015 summer training sessions beyond the Austin session planned for July 30th through August 1st. Broadly speaking, our goal is to empower other communities to develop teaching excellence through a combination of teacher training, leadership development, resource development, advocacy, and benchmark modeling.

The “special programs” detailed in this report reflect our larger organizational strategy that we serve best when we serve with specificity. We anticipate continuing and improving each of our special programs, and we plan to reinvigorate our work in Braille adaptation of our curriculum—as our program at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired grows.

Our highest objective is to continue to achieve deep and positive impact on the diverse young people we directly serve in Central Texas each and every day. We know that this objective is never complete but, rather, is the result of continued dedication, innovation, and refinement.

On behalf of all of us at Austin Classical Guitar, we would like to share how deeply grateful we are for your continued support. Our work would simply not be possible without our dedicated community, and we marvel at the generosity that has enabled our service since the 2001 beginning of our work in education.

Please to do not hesitate to ask if you would like any additional information or clarification about this report or our programs in general.