Visions Of Violins For Christmas – Shortage of String Instruments for Low Income Elementary Students

Leopold Elementary Needs Donations Of Violins, Violas And Cellos So That All Of The Students In Its Popular Strings Classes Can Take An Instrument Home To Practice.
Read Sandy Cullen’s full article:

Wisconsin State Journal :: LOCAL/WISCONSIN :: B1
Visions Of Violins For Christmas
Thursday, December 9, 2004
Sandy Cullen Wisconsin State Journal
Montana’s former state fiddle champion is something of a Pied Piper at Leopold Elementary, where so many students have enrolled in his strings classes that the school needs more musical instruments.
“I’ve got only 20 that are playable,” said Pat Kukes, who is seeking donations of instruments for the school’s 54 fourth- and fifth-graders learning to play violin, viola and cello.
Last year, about 35 students participated, said Principal Mary Hyde.
Most of his students are low-income, Kukes said, adding, “There’s no way they can rent” their own instruments.
The school has enough instruments for students to play in classes that meet three times a week in a hallway foyer in the overcrowded school. But there aren’t enough for all students to take one home to practice, so they are taking turns having an instrument on weekends.
“They’re frustrated. Little kids are going home and playing on their fingers,” Kukes said. “We’re struggling simply because we don’t have the instruments to take home.”
Kukes has shown his students how to practice their fingering on a pencil or another finger.
“It’s kind of hard to do it just with a pencil,” said fourth-grader Emily Somberg, 9.
The instruments the school has are rundown, said Kukes, who hopes to refurbish some over the holiday break.
“My wish for Christmas is that I can send an instrument home with all the students so they can play for grandpa and grandma,” he said.
Kukes is hoping people or businesses will donate instruments. His students need – and -size violins and cellos, and violas that are 14 inches or smaller. Full-size violins also can be used.
“In other years, we had $70,000 of district money to replace instruments,” said district spokesman Ken Syke. “As part of our budget cuts this year, we put a moratorium on that.”
This year’s budget includes $11,000 for music workbooks and $17,000 for instrument repairs, he said, adding that schools have some flexibility in how they address needs not funded by the district.
Schools try to supply every fourth-grader in the strings program with an instrument they can take home to practice, Kukes said. More than 40 of his Leopold students are fourth-graders.
Fifth-graders usually rent their instruments, he said. Four of the school’s fifth-graders have their own instruments.
Kukes has enough instruments for his 82 students at Chavez and 38 students at Huegel.
For the first time this year, the district is charging a $50 annual fee for students in the elementary strings program, in addition to rental fees of $20 a semester for fourth-graders and $35 a semester for fifth-graders. Fees are waived for low-income students.
More than 1,800 students participated in the district’s strings program last year, Syke said. This year, more than 1,700 are enrolled, he said, adding that two schools, Emerson and Stephens, are in the process of hiring a strings teacher and haven’t begun their programs.
\ Longtime teacher
A Montana native, Kukes, 52, taught strings for 25 years in Helena, where he also conducted a youth symphony. But the state’s former fiddle champ doesn’t consider himself a “typical orchestra person.”
He’s played in bands that were opening acts for Marshall Tucker, Pure Prairie League and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and he appeared as a violinist in the film “Return to Lonesome Dove.”
“I went to my first jam session when I was 5 days old,” said Kukes, whose mother played accordion and piano and father played bass guitar in country bands.
A “cowboy poet,” Kukes recently shared his poem about a bronco-riding Santa with students.
“He has a very good way with teachers, kids and parents,” Hyde said.
Kukes started in late October, recruiting students by going class to class, playing “little ditties.” Students followed Kukes to his hallway classroom he calls “the fishbowl.”
Fourth-grader Luis Rangel, 10, said he was “tired of soccer and baseball” and finds playing the violin more fun than sports.
Natalia Lucero, 10, said she hopes to play in an orchestra, and Becky Xiong, 9, said simply, “I wanted to learn.”
Most students said they just thought playing an instrument would be fun.
Kukes believes it’s that and more.
“If you get kids in music, it’s amazing how much they succeed,” he said. “It really helps with their reading. It really helps with their math.”
It also develops self-discipline, Kukes said. “Some of these kids, it might be the thing that keeps them out of trouble. I’ve got so many kids on the fence.”
“For some kids, this is a wonderful opportunity to excel,” Hyde said.
\ Spring music festival
The School Board is expected to seek a funding referendum this spring to build a second school at Leopold, which has 680 students — about 20 more than its capacity.
Kukes would like his Leopold students to participate in the district’s spring music festival, but he said, “With 20 instruments and 54 students, how do I pick who goes and who doesn’t?”
“We can’t even do much with a school concert because they can’t all play together,” he said, adding, “That’s what’s cool. That’s what’s fun.”
Despite the challenges for Leopold’s students, Kukes said, “I haven’t lost a single one.”
He doesn’t even mind the parade of third-graders walking though his hallway classroom.
“It’s good recruiting for next year,” he said.
\ To donate
If you have an instrument you would like to donate to the strings program at Leopold Elementary School, contact Pat Kukes at 204-4240.