235 Straight Ave NW
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49504
Casey Stratton, music program coordinator and instructor at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth, strongly believes that music is important to all cultures as a way of expression and to keep their stories alive. He is helping youth create their own stories as they learn music and build relationships with caring adults through the Music Makers program.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth Music Program Coordinator and Instructor Casey Stratton:
To me, being a leader means getting the job done and knowing when to take charge or nudge a situation without being overbearing and abusive. Especially when it come to teaching students music, I work very hard to create an environment where they know I expect a lot from them but that it is perfectly okay to make mistakes. We know how to focus, but we also remember to laugh.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream for kids is that they grow into young adults who feel they can achieve anything they set their minds to with enough hard work. My ultimate dream is to see a society where some kids are not working against the odds from day one to
I am constantly aware that the conversation I am having today can have a lasting impact.
graduation day -- if they graduate at all -- and where everyone has an equal chance of success. I think my program helps kids to develop even more of a personal identity by learning something they are interested in and feeling success, something that is so needed to help these kids become teens and adults who excel.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Across the board, I think there needs to be more opportunities for the community to understand exactly how nonprofits and social sector organizations help and impact the lives of people in West Michigan, especially youth.
How do you know you’re making progress?
Of course there are the concrete measurements of students becoming more proficient at their instrument, but the real indicator of progress, to me, is the way my relationship changes and deepens with students. The more the kids get to know me and trust me, the more comfortable they feel to open up to me about all kinds of issues they are facing in their lives.
Sometimes they are just curious about something and have never felt they had anyone to ask. Learning music is a very
Exploring creativity as a child can only help someone living in this time to be more prepared for the world that awaits them.
intimate process, and it creates a strong bond of trust. It has been shown over and over again that having relationships with caring adults is a major factor in youth making better choices later in life. I am constantly aware that the conversation I am having today can have a lasting impact. It is a great responsibility but a very rewarding one.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the fact that I started this program in October 2012 with an empty page and have gone on to see it become so successful and important to the kids in a very short time. I began with three clubs, no dedicated spaces, and five days a week to schedule different classes, making sure every age group from 6-18 had something they could participate in for at least one hour per week.
Over the course of the 2012/13 school year, approximately 250 kids participated in the program. This culminated in a highly successful spring concert at a 400-seat theater featuring 60 performers. The feeling of accomplishment and success was evident on the kids' faces. Michigan Radio profiled the program on their State of Opportunity series, and two of my piano students performed on eightWest on WOOD TV 8 in Grand Rapids. Local awareness of the clubs and the program has increased greatly and I hope it will continue to expand.
Why do you feel music education is an important part of a child’s overall education?
Every culture in history has expressed itself and left its legacy through the arts. The arts are a way to explore the world around us, and our inner emotional world as well. Music is particularly important to all cultures as a way to express themselves and keep their stories alive. Learning music helps develop spatial relation skills and is proven to bolster reading and math abilities. Performing in an ensemble helps a person to listen to and work in tandem with others to create something wonderful. We live in a society where the most competitive jobs are often decided by which candidate is the most creative. Exploring creativity as a child can only help someone living in this time to be more prepared for the world that awaits them. How many adults say, “I wish I had kept with those piano lessons”? Music is absolutely an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to education, specifically for children who show talent and interest in it.