We recently returned from an amazing trip connecting with my father’s roots in Thailand. My wife Monica and I lived and traveled throughout Asia in the early 1990’s. But this was our first time back in 25 years and it was a wonderful way to introduce our son Alejandro to his Thai family with grandpa at his side. It also made me reflect on an idea from our time in Asia, a mentor program!
While living in Hong Kong, Monica became the first international director of San Francisco based, Summerbridge (now called Breakthrough Collaborative.) The program’s mission: to "bridge the summer" with a unique summer school. The teachers were gifted high school and international college students. The students were elementary school students from lower income housing estates. As these teachers were just a few years older than their students, there were lots of opportunities to build rapport through shared pop culture references, food, and the recency of having just learned what they were teaching. And even though the focus was on the younger students, we witnessed incredible growth in the older "mentor" students. This idea is applicable to your music student community.
A Music Mentor Program
When Alejandro was around 9 years old, he began weekly visits to several of my students at their homes. He would sit with them and help them to practice. It was the same idea as Summerbridge HK.
He had a lot of rapport (and respect) from kids who were just a few years younger than him. He would help them practice, demonstrate certain techniques and encourage them to go further. It was super successful especially with recital preparation. And, he was happy to get pizza money for "his job."
We recently kicked this off in my school, Park Slope Music Lessons. It was received with great enthusiasm, and newfound friendships and mentorships are taking place. Music is a social activity and can open the doors for so many. Plus, it fosters an even greater sense of community around your school and teaching. It’s a great gift to your students.
Chloe and Alejandro in an early version of the music mentor program
Here’s how to create a mentor program for your students
Send out an email with the subject: Music mentor opportunity for your child
Set up a sign up sheet using Google Docs or similar with child’s name, parent’s name, contact info, ages, instruments and whether they want to be a mentor or mentee. (Be sure to set a cut-off date)
Do some matchmaking introductions and give them a simple structure.
Here’s a sample email for matchmaking - the key to the mentor program
Hi ___ I'm introducing you two as you both expressed interest in the Music Mentors program. I think K can be a wonderful mentor for C. K is 10 and plays piano and drums. C is 7 and plays piano, drums and guitar
Here's what I suggest.
Get the boys together and let them hang out and show each other stuff. Then go into more structured music time.
Introductions, show me your instrument, rapport building, and adults leave the kids.
Why don't you show me a song?
Do you want me to help you practice?
After the first session, set a time/date for the next session.
These sessions may work better as a kids-only experience after initial introductions.
I recommend a payment of $5 for the mentors.
It's a small stipend and just enough to really motivate and show them they can earn money by helping others. And, they can get a slice of pizza and a drink
How does that sound?
As I said, we just started this. But within a few weeks, I've already heard enthusiastic responses from the kids and the parents. If you do try this, I would love to know how it works for you and your students. Drop me a line.