Something very special is happening at Dogwood Elementary School in Reston. Friendships are blossoming, and kids are learning as teenagers mentor smaller kids in music and art at the Virginia school.
The Tuesday after-school program is the brainchild of Ella Kim, 15, and Emma Kim, 13 — sisters who are classically trained musicians. Ella, a ninth-grader at Oakton High School, has been studying music since age 4, while her sister Emma, a student at Rachel Carson Middle School, since age 6.
The sounds of chatter and laughter mixed with the strains of violin, cello and plinking piano.
“We provide free music and art lessons to students at Title 1 schools … We have a few mentors here at the piano, and we also offer violin, viola, cello and also art, such as painting and drawing,” Ella said.
Teen mentors in the program called “ITZArt4You” could be found instructing small children in mixed-media art seated at large round tables, while others provided musical instrument training.
“It’s really fun seeing all the kids each week, and I never thought I would enjoy being with kids this much. And teaching my students just made me realize how much music connects people together, and I’m so glad we started this organization,” Emma said.
The young students seemed focused on their learning and delighted to be working with the bigger kids.
“I want to give (a) thank you to all of our mentors for taking the time after school to give us this opportunity to be better at our instruments,” said fourth-grader Krystine, pausing from her violin lesson.
“It’s really fun, and they give us extra lessons and extra practice, so we can learn more about our instrument,” added Haron, who is in fourth grade.
The Kim sisters came up with the idea over the summer and laid out their vision for Dogwood’s principal Kate Beckner, who welcomed the idea and reached out to the teenagers’ teachers to develop a curriculum and provide the teens guidance in instructing the younger children.
“Right now, we’re actually getting ready for a performance coming up in about seven weeks,” Ella said.
All of the strings instruments are the students who already participate in strings class, Beckner said. The keyboards (piano lessons) were donated by various donors attached to the Kim family to support them.
The benefits flow both ways. The young students learn and thrive under the tutelage of bigger kids, and the bigger kids find joy working with the youngsters and helping them explore music and art.
“They’re really great students, and it’s so fun coming here and teaching them, and I think it’s so great how good they are at their instrument and that they want to get better,” said eight-grade mentor Laila.
From the joy and camaraderie in the after-school program, there’s more going on than simply teaching music and art.
“They’re building relationships. They are very engaged with each other, and the kids come running and give them hugs. And they check in about their day, and it’s way deeper than just the art. It’s all about the relationships and getting to know each other,” Beckner said.
The special program is in its second semester at Dogwood, and the Kim sisters hope to reach many more kids in the future.
“Our hope is that ‘ItzArt’ will expand to other Title 1 schools, as well. We also want to expand it across the country in the next couple of years,” Ella said.
I really hope this travels to other schools around the county, and I hope to continue this throughout college as well,” Emma said.