Every Wednesday afternoon in a classroom at Oak Meadows Elementary School in Manor, Texas, you’ll find a group of 4th and 5th grade students learning to play classical guitar with their instructor, Victor Longoria. This after-school program was launched in the fall of 2018 as part of ACG Education’s new expansion into Manor ISD, which includes programs at Oak Meadows, Decker Elementary, and Decker Middle School. ACG’s work in Manor is made possible by a generous grant from the Applied Materials Foundation.

Engaging with music early in life has many documented benefits, and for the students at Oak Meadows that includes having lots of fun! When asked what their favorite things were about guitar class they happily listed practicing, giving each other nicknames, and playing exciting repertoire – from Christmas songs to pop and rock music. The students enjoy activities like these while simultaneously gaining valuable life skills. In music class, they learn how to persist through challenges, commit to tasks, and work together to create something beautiful to share with the world.     

Their instructor, Victor, was a self-taught musician until college. He says that once he had a teacher, “[learning guitar] was totally different.” He knows how influential and inspiring a good music teacher can be. Victor supports and encourages his students through the struggles that inevitably arise when they learn a new concept or piece of music. And when they ultimately master something that was once difficult, their success can help them build the confidence and skills to problem-solve and overcome their insecurities in other aspects of their lives. Victor believes that it’s not all about perfection, reassuring his students that he knows what they’re going through. After each performance, he asks his class how they felt. He thinks it’s important to recognize the emotions that they’re experiencing.

The program fosters an environment in which the students feel safe to express their emotions artistically as well. Joshua, a 5th-grader in Victor’s class, solemnly observed that “[music] can be so weird and abstract, but so good!” Joshua and his classmates are discovering what music means to them, and the beautiful thing is that they all see it in a unique way.

The class agreed that one of the best moments they’ve had in the program so far was joining with 30 middle school guitar students this spring to accompany a singer on a folk song called “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Having the opportunity to play with older students gives the younger ones a chance to envision themselves continuing with music. They remembered feeling both ecstatic and nervous, and Victor is proud of how well they played. The students also reminisced about how much they enjoyed playing “Jingle Bells” during a winter concert.

These students are not only honing talent, but also growing friendships. There are a range of personalities in the group, from a quiet student with a shy smile who needed encouragement to speak, to an incredibly excited and talkative 5th grader who shared a seemingly random assortment of ideas and stories. Students whose paths might normally diverge are creating bonds that will exist beyond guitar class. Their smiles and camaraderie say it all: music has the power to bring us together, no matter our differences.

Thanks to the support from the Applied Materials Foundation and other donors, ACG is able to provide high quality music education, as well as guitars, at no cost to the students or the district. We’re thrilled to see guitar making a positive difference in Manor ISD and excited to watch these programs – and the children who participate – continue to bloom!