McKeesport School District bass program enhanced
By Jennifer R. Vertullo
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013, 12:46 a.m.
Updated: Thursday, March 21, 2013
McKeesport Area School District is enhancing its music program across grade levels through a new, grant-funded Mentors in the Bass-ment program.
Thanks to a grant through The Consortium for Public Education, high schoolers are teaching middle school and elementary students to play new and repaired instruments while increasing the opportunity for children to play bass in district orchestras.
Two elementary-sized basses were purchased with guidance from Slippery Rock-based luthier Michael Magee, and three basses that are appropriate for middle school use were repaired at Progressive Music in McKeesport.
“Before the instruments were purchased and repaired, orchestra students did not have the option to play bass until they reached high school,” McKeesport Area High School orchestra director Katelyn Panza said.
“With the grant, elementary and middle school students now have the chance to learn and develop playing skills at the same pace as the rest of the orchestra students,” she said.
The grant is being implemented by the district-wide music department — allowing students from McKeesport Area High School, Founders Hall Middle School and Francis McClure Intermediate School to work, learn and grow as they create music together.
Senior Kyle Altieri, who mentors alongside classmate Dan Stepansky, said youngsters likely will surpass their skill level in high school.
“It's cool that we're using our knowledge to help someone get to the level where we are,” Kyle said. “I can get them to my playing level, and they can excel past it.”
When Kyle and Dan picked up the bass as freshmen, it was Panza's first year as a music instructor.
“We were all in the dark a little bit,” Panza said with a laugh.
With two eager students and a first-time teacher, she explained, lessons were a bit scattered at first. But four years into the program, Kyle and Dan have become proficient performers and now are trying their hands at teaching.
That peer mentoring, Panza said, has given high school students a chance to motivate underclassmen.
“It's fun,” seventh-grader Tommi Barnes said. “Music is a big part of my life. Learning the bass was an opportunity to learn another instrument.”
Tommi started playing the flute in sixth grade, and was happy when the bass was added to the standard elementary string program that previously included viola, violin and cello.
Other district bass players are freshmen Steven Kozlowski and Michael Chelosky, sixth-grader Arrianna Jones, fifth-grader Richard Graham and fourth-grader Bobby Burnsworth. Panza said the district plans to continue Mentors in the Bass-ment and generate interest among elementary students in coming years.
District representatives thanked the Consortium for its continued support of McKeesport Area programs.
“This grant reinforces the great music department we have by giving children an opportunity they wouldn't have otherwise,” public relations and communication specialist Kristen Giran said.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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