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Jun. 23, 2021 | Wednesday
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St. Michael school receives $5,500 grant to buy guitars for students
Grade 6 students learn on borrowed guitars. (Supplied)

Fatima Baig
Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report

Niagara-on-the-Lake's St. Michael Catholic Elementary School has received a $5,500 grant to boost its music program.

Principal Janice Barretto-Mendonca said the school has a "music-rich environment" with a piano in the foyer that residents often play for the students.

"NOTL is very community-oriented, so we had members of the community who would come in and play piano for us a couple of times a week, and they would be in the foyer to teach the children with piano. Different classes would come in and sing," she said.

However, COVID forced the music program to change and woodwind instruments, shared by students in schools across the region, were banned due to concerns about spreading the virus.

"We weren't able to use the recorders, trumpets or trombones or some of the instruments that we were lucky to use in the past," Barretto-Mendonca said.

Music teachers move around the region and Jill Tham, who normally is at St. Michael a couple of weeks each month, initiated the application for the 2021 MusiCounts Band Aid Program grant after a student asked why they couldn't take instruments home.

"One of the things we were able to use is strings, so I borrowed guitars from another location, and one of the students in Grade 7 said, 'Well, is there any way we can get our own set of guitars for the school,' and I said actually we could," Tham noted.

WIth help from the students, she led the grant application to help purchase 30 guitars.

The students participated in the application process by providing videos and quotes about why it's important to them to have access to instruments and programs that run during the day.

"They had the opportunity to say what having a school set would mean to them and having the opportunity to access the instruments and having programs that would run during the day," said Tham.

One of the goals was to enable students to take instruments home to practise.

"It's challenging to learn an instrument if you don't have access to it all the time and, like with any sport or activity, you need to practise," she said.

Another stumbling block is the Virgil school draws from a large area and many students arrive by bus, so providing after-school programs is a challenge.

Barretto-Mendonca said another teacher is looking at starting a guitar club. Having the guitars in the building will enable her to work directly with the children.

"This means that we can support a guitar club at the school, which I am looking forward to because it gives children another outlet. Not everybody is an athlete. Some of them are really strong musicians. Every kid has their gift, but this is also exposure. It may not even be their gift, but they get exposed to different things here at school," she said.

Tham also acknowledged Conrad Simon from Thorold Music for assisting with the application.

He also offered advice about what would be in stock with his suppliers, so the instruments would arrive for classes in September, said Tham.