Little Swallows is bringing music education to low-income preschools.
In any given week, Katie Oaks could rehearse “The Wheels on the Bus” in as many as 20 different preschool classrooms. But she doesn’t mind the repetition. “Teachers will tell me how some students get frustrated with writing and sitting down, but when I come they transform,” the Swallow Hill Music teacher says.
Helping children thrive through the power of music is the goal of Swallow Hill Music’s new Little Swallows community program. What started with one school two years ago now reaches more than 1,000 preschoolers. “Not long ago, a little boy who can pronounce letters but not words sat right next to me and says, ‘K,’ the start of my name,” Oaks recalls. “That was the first time he identified me. As teachers, that’s why we get up in the morning.”
- The country’s second-largest acoustic music school, Swallow Hill Music was founded as a nonprofit in 1979. The school and outreach center offered paid classes and reached those at risk through a K–12 in-school assembly program, after-school enrichment classes and music therapy until 2016, when the organization decided to grow its reach to underserved communities. “We set up the Little Swallows preschool curriculum as a Swallow Hill class at McGlone Academy,” says CEO Paul Lhevine. “We saw an average of 86 percent (cognitive) growth in students. This year, we’re expanding to almost 20 schools.”
How it works
- Swallow Hill chooses schools and early childhood education centers that meet certain criteria. “One thing we look for is a free and reduced lunch rate of 90 percent or higher,” Lhevine says. “We also look for strong leadership and people who are committed to doing our program.” Little Swallows is offered to schools at a 90 percent discount and Swallow Hill provides the instruments. Teachers go to schools for a 30-minute weekly class, teaching students to play drums, tambourines, maracas, jingle bells and more.
How you can help
Donate online; donations help pay for instructor and administrative costs, curriculum updates and new instruments.
- CLASSES & WORKSHOPS: Swallow Hill offers instruction in everything from guitar to harp to piano to singing to songwriting for all ages and abilities. New sessions start this month.
FREE MONTHLY EVENTS: Irish jams on first Sundays; bluegrass and jazz jams on second Sundays; and open jams Monday through Wednesday.
BELT IT OUT! PERFORMANCE CAMP: Send your campers (ages 10–13; July 9–13) to learn songs by The Beatles, Irving Berlin, Beyoncé and more. Beginner to advanced musicians welcome.