THE BRIDGES PROGRAM: AFTER-SCHOOL STRING INSTRUCTION
Founded as an educational program of the former Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestra Association in 2006, the Bridges Program began operating independently as a program of MAESTRO Ensembles, Inc. in September 2012 and continues to provide twice-weekly small group instruction on violin, viola, cello, bass, and harp. Students also may participate in a weekly orchestra starting in the spring of each year. Instruments are provided for students’ use at no cost to families.
The Bridges Program was started to address the need for string education opportunities for children in Baltimore City Schools following significant budget cuts to funding for arts programs in the schools. The Bridges Program has provided high-quality instruction for aspiring string players using a curriculum which follows modified Suzuki methods for beginners while incorporating state standards for music education as the classes progress.
Harp instruction was added in the fall of 2011 and has been fortunate to have had teachers who are in the harp pedagogy program, under the supervision of Ruth Inglefield, at the Peabody Conservatory. In addition to receiving twice-weekly small group instruction by instrument, students are able to participate in a weekly string orchestra rehearsal and will have at least one large performance each year. All sites follow the same basic curriculum, but teachers are encouraged to use their own style and supplement with games and creative activities of their choosing. Students are also given leadership opportunities and the chance to develop improvisation skills during classes.
Bridges Program teachers are chosen based on their commitment to the value of providing warm, supportive, quality music education experiences for children in Baltimore City schools. Some program teachers are students at area colleges and universities, and some have years of experience. All have a passion for sharing music through teaching and helping children develop a love of making music.
Over the past nine years, the program has served over 1200 students in ten schools. While the Bridges Program has reached large numbers of children, giving them a good foundation and strong beginning skills, only a small number of them continue beyond the years of the Bridges Program. To address our concerns about this, we are planning to strengthen the relationship with the TWIGS program at the Baltimore School for the Arts to encourage more students to follow that path and continue to grow as musicians.
We hired a new Bridges Program Coordinator in the summer of 2015, with an eye to the future creating an Executive Director position.
The Bridges Program has worked with students at several schools in Baltimore City, including Waverly Elementary Middle, Govans Elementary, Calvin Rodwell Elementary, Edgewood Elementary, Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy, Thomas Johnson Elementary Middle, East Baltimore Community School, Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary Middle, Wolfe Street Academy, and the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School. In the tenth season, starting fall 2015, the Bridges Program will add William Pinderhughes Elementary Middle as a new site. Site partners have included Child First Authority, Franciscan Youth Center, Elev8 Baltimore, and the Baltimore Curriculum Project.
Past projects of the Bridges Program have included summer camps, work with professional soloists in the Baltimore area, and collaborations with other local string education programs through activities such as Creative Connections and Bridges Program-facilitated string orchestra rehearsals and concerts. When possible the Bridges Program has supported continuing instruction for advancing students through continued use of program instruments and in some cases scholarship assistance for private lessons.
Funding for the Bridges Program comes from diverse sources: our partner sites, individual donors and family foundations, and various granting organizations. Past grants have been received from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maryland State Arts Council, Creative Baltimore Fund, and the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. Instruments are donated from many individual families as well as Gailes’ Violin Shop and the Elville Center for the Musical Arts.