At ACG, we believe in the transformative power of music. We have witnessed firsthand how music can transcend boundaries, touch hearts, and make a positive impact in people’s lives. Over the past decade, we have been privileged to create and sustain Texas’ first and only daily, for-credit performing arts course for young people incarcerated in the Juvenile Justice system. Learn more about ACG Education and our Juvenile Justice programs here

Here is a beautiful reflection by AISD Counselor at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center, Kim Andersen. 

“My name is Kim Andersen and I have been working at the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center in Austin, Texas since 2007. Gardner Betts is a juvenile detention center. The kids live here, incarcerated, and the seeds of a successful future are planted. I was a teacher at Gardner Betts for several years and currently serve as the school counselor. I feel I know our students well after all this time. These young men and women, aged 13-17, come to us via the Travis County Juvenile Courts, adjudicated by judges, for a therapeutic length of stay that varies from about 6 months to a year, with an average residence of 9 months.

Motivating them has always been our biggest challenge. I’ve never spoken to a student who didn’t want to have a bright future. But all too often they have failed so many times that their confidence is shot and they simply don’t believe they have the right to be successful. Our teachers meet them where they are, typically on an elementary grade level even though they’re technically in middle or high school grades, and challenge them to try. Trying involves failure, and that triggers their wellhoned coping mechanisms to avoid embarrassment or shame; sometimes they lash out violently. It’s a daily struggle to be honest. But the teachers, guards, and mental health counselors persevere, because these are young humans who are capable of far more than they realize when they come to us.

Out teachers have worked alongside the teacher-musicians from Austin Classical Guitar since the beginning of my tenure. Over the years, our collaboration with Austin Classical Guitar has grown from a few times a week in the evenings to a regular class, within the school day, where students earn Fine Arts credits towards a diploma. I can’t say enough about how much the addition of music influences the lives of our incarcerated youth. Every student in Guitar starts out reluctant, afraid of failure, and afraid of trying. The ACG teachers coax them out of their protective shell, note by note, until they’re performing in front of crowds. It’s an amazing sight to see their faces when they look up and take in the effect they’ve had on those in attendance. Many of them choose to continue their guitar studies after they leave Gardner Betts, and ACG makes sure whatever school they’re enrolling in next is prepared to receive them with open arms, often providing an instrument to our resident students as their discharge from the facility. They’re hooked on music! And they’ve accomplished something they didn’t imagine they could.

It’s very hard for our young people to engage in the kind of practice and repetition necessary for incremental growth in reading, writing, and mathematics. At our best, we raise their grade levels by 1⁄2, 1, 1 1⁄2, or in rare cases 2 grade levels in the time they’re with us. It’s a tremendous source of pride to us, make no mistake, but the reality is that they come in with a 4th grade reading level and leave us reading on a 6th grade reading level, as they head back to their high school. More challenges await them. But music seems to have something very different for them. Going from almost complete ignorance of reading or playing music to confidently playing a composed classical guitar piece in front of an audience in just one semester is priceless for their sense of selfworth. The correlation between their engagement in their traditional classes of math, science, etc and their confidence level rising in their Guitar class is profound. Hope and Determination are wonderfully contagious!

I can think of no better way to invest in a creative Texas than by ensuring the wayward youth of our fine state continue to be provided with this musical opportunity from Austin Classical Guitar, and to expand the access to as many young people as possible. Please consider them strongly as a recipient of your grant funding, the money invested will come back to Texas many times over in the form of confident, competent, educated, and artistic citizens as these young studentmusicians reenter society with their newly acquired talents.” – Kim Andersen, Austin ISD School Counselor, Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center

Listen to a piece composed and performed by the students of Gardner Betts here.

Reflections such as these inspire us to keep evolving, fostering connections, and continue healing together. We are so grateful to have the chance to do this work and would not be able to create these opportunities without the support of our community. Learn more about how to support our Juvenile Justice programs here