Dear Friends,

It has been a truly remarkable year in ACG Education. As you’ll read in this report two of our national partners have hit major milestones in their organizations, proving that mentorship and modeling from ACG combined with time and effort from faraway partners can turn into sustainable programming with wide-ranging positive community benefit. This is extremely encouraging, and will impact our strategy going forward as we actively seek more willing and capable institutional partners.

Another of our most significant developments is the creation of a second daily juvenile justice system program, this time in Williamson County. This new program is going beautifully, students have performed in public three times, and the staff and community are responding with tremendous enthusiasm. This means that the program we started nine years ago in juvenile detention in Travis County is replicable, and we’re already in talks with another county to the south about starting a third program.

In these reports I often focus on program growth and demonstrable change in our systems and resources. It is slightly more difficult to capture the direct impact we’re having on hearts and minds, on individual students, parents and teachers. I have so many stories! So many parents have come up to me at concerts with statements of gratitude, so many teachers around the world send us videos of their students playing music from our curriculum. It can be overwhelming in a good way. As one example, here is an excerpt from a student’s college essay we were invited to share this fall:

Music has been a love of mine since I started in middle school. I have progressed from taking it as an elective, to private lessons, to an Austin-wide youth ensemble…When I play, I feel lost in myself and I have benefited greatly from the transferable skills I’ve learned from my music education thus far. I feel I have a gift, which allows me to live through my life with a purpose. 

Sometimes I feel anxious and agitated and am not sure how to manage my emotions…I had an intense period of hardship and needed to get some focused help for a few days. I was in an environment that had other adolescents with all sorts of various hardships regarding mental and emotional health…Instead of staying quiet and removing myself…I actually surprised myself by stepping up to help. I played the guitar they had on hand. I made acquaintances in the short time I was there…When I left, the social workers indicated how proud they were of me, of my openness, and willingness to share my music. To me, that experience demonstrated leadership under difficult circumstances.

We have a guiding question at Austin Classical Guitar: “What good can music do in the world today?” To be sure one of the best answers to that question is to take any steps necessary to ensure as many young people as possible have an opportunity to find joy and satisfaction through music education in their schools. That is the purpose of our work in ACG Education, and that is the subject of this report. There are other answers, however, answers like raising money for charity, reaching people facing profound challenge or isolation, or international cultural exchange to help foster understanding and empathy. If you’re curious about some of the work ACG does in those arenas, I’d like to invite you to take a look at our Top Ten Moments of 2019 that includes glimpses of our other service areas.

Thank you. 

If you are reading this report it is because you care. You have given to ACG Education, you believe in the importance of quality music education in young people’s lives, and you have helped make everything we do possible. As a team we have never been more convinced of the gentle power of music to welcome all people, to help individuals build their identities in pro-social ways, and to help nourish the spirit. We are deeply grateful to you, and we hope what you find in this report will make you proud.

Matt Hinsley, Executive Director
Austin Classical Guitar


Central Texas

Our deep partnership with Austin ISD continues. With dozens of schools perhaps our most common challenge is teacher turnover or changes in school structure leading to class disruption or large or unstable class sizes. We have added one new middle school program this fall (O. Henry), are working actively to stabilize personnel in one high school campus currently, and are looking at the prospect of three new middle school programs in fall 2020.

Recent successes include the placement and multi-year intensive support of a teacher at LBJ/LASA, and the addition of two support instructors for growing programs at Lively, Covington, and Akins. Both instructors, incidentally, are former ACG students who are now full-time employees of AISD teaching guitar in ACG programs. You can read more about Mr. Saucedo and Mr. Hernandez in this article about ACG alumni: Where Are They Now? 

ACG Education can be summarized as including four main elements: Curriculum, Teacher Training, Special Support Services, and Standards and Systems Building. In this final category, one example is our development of the Austin ISD Concert and Sight Reading Contest (CS&R). This is a standard element of orchestra and band programs, but until we developed the event for Austin ISD six years ago, it did not exist for guitar in the state of Texas. This kind of event is critical when building large education systems as it is the evaluative measure for districts to communicate standards and expectations for all programs. ACG Education staff has run this contest for AISD for six years, continually develops materials and processes, and has also assisted four other districts to develop similar contests around the state. More than 700 students from over 40 ensembles participated in CS&R in spring 2019 (contest results, rules, procedures, and sight reading examples available upon request). 

Surrounding Communities: San Marcos High School under the direction of Juan Carlos Cavasos continues to be very impressive. They participated in our 2019 CS&R, and there are plans to expand guitar into the middle school levels in San Marcos soon. Mr. Cavasos also had one student selected for the All Region High School Ensemble in November 2019. Del Valle’s after school for-credit program is run by ACG’s Arnold Yzaguirre, and received straight superior ratings in the 2019 CS&R. Manor’s Decker Middle School program is thriving under the direction of Victor Longoria, and though there has been administrative change in MISD, January will see the reinstatement of elementary programs at both Oak Meadows and Decker Elementary Schools run by ACG alumni Angelica Campbell and Alex Lew. We are in current talks about the expansion of the Dripping Springs High School guitar program as well. 

 

Free Lessons Initiative

ACG Education began in 2001 as an initiative to provide free lessons for low-income students. Our mission quickly expanded to curriculum development and program building, but the free lessons program has continued and expanded. ACG has six teachers: Jeffrey Fratus, Douglas Stefaniak, Tony Mariano, Angelica Campbell, Tom Clippinger and Javier Saucedo providing individual lesson support primarily in Title 1 Schools.

We are particularly proud to report that 8 out of 21 students selected for the All Region High School ensemble in November, are participants in the ACG Free Lesson Initiative. 

Some of our most dramatic examples of personal growth and success over the years have come about through these special and intensive mentor relationships. When a student is identified as both qualifying for the program and showing special interest to avidly pursue music, they are paired with a teacher for 30- or 60-minute lessons every week for the entire school year. All students in ACG Free Lessons are expected to perform publicly as soloists on a regular basis.

This year we established a special scholarship fund in the name of former Free Lesson participant, Javier Niño, whose life was tragically cut short by an impaired driver in February. You can learn more about this remarkable young man, his scholarship, and the scholarship’s first recipient, Elijah Flores, online here

Mr. Flores wrote: “Classical guitar has changed my life and will always be valuable to me…I’m proud to call myself a classical guitarist.”

Juvenile Justice System

ACG’s Jeremy Osborne runs our Juvenile Justice programs. One of the most significant developments of 2019 is the addition of our second such program in Williamson County (WilCo). Instruction at WilCo began June 3rd, and the students performed July 8th, August 10th, and December 10th.  

Our programs in juvenile justice are highly unusual. They are the only for-credit, daily, performing arts elective programs we know of in the United States. While there are many shorter-term enrichment or activity-based arts programs, the opportunity we have to make deep and lasting change through relationship-building and significant skills development is unusual. We’re thrilled, then, to have had the opportunity to build a second program in a neighboring county. We’re also very pleased to report that we are in talks to build a third program in Hays County in the year to come.

In September the Austin American Statesman published the largest print article ever written about ACG, over 3,000 words! The article includes special focus on our work in juvenile justice and a brief video feature shot in part at WilCo. You can view both the article and video feature online here

Let’s Play: Braille Music Learning Resource

ACG began a guitar program at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) in 2010. In 2012 we supported a Braille adaptation of our GuitarCurriculum.com resource that has led to a full-scale literacy-based guitar program there ever since led by Jeremy Coleman. In 2016 we became aware of the need for a lifelong learning pathway for Braille music readers on the classical guitar. No such pathway existed, and we had TSBVI graduates leaving school with skills for whom there was no supported lifelong learning sequence.

With the goal of addressing that need, we created LetsPlayGuitar.org, a free online resource pairing graded pieces of solo music in Braille and print formats with audio instruction guides for both guitar proficiency and Braille reading. The site launched in July 2018 and so far has had over 8,500 unique visitors and the Braille score packet (.brf) has been downloaded more than 1,500 times.

The site contained only beginning level material, however, and as soon as it launched we began a second phase of development. Phase 2 includes a site redesign, and significant content additions that should allow users at least 3-5 years of study material yielding successful students who are fluent music readers in first position on the guitar, who possess a full compliment of basic guitar techniques, and who can play dozens of beautiful solo pieces. We’re pleased to report that content is now complete for Phase 2, and the new site will launch in January 2020.

We’re also extremely excited to announce that Rados Malidzan, a world-class guitarist and educator in Montenegro, has asked to translate and adapt the materials for use in the Balkan Peninsula. After a nationwide fundraising campaign including multiple televised appearances, he has raised the funds necessary for the project. Our new website will be capable of supporting multiple languages from a single database.

GuitarCurriculum.com

GuitarCurriculum.com is the core of ACG Education. The philosophy, curriculum, and vast support materials within it have allowed us not only to advance the quality of classroom guitar education, but also to replicate success across the US and beyond. One of our top strategic goals has been to redevelop the site for superior functionality in terms of content, data, functionality, and appearance. It was a huge job and it took us years to complete, but we’re thrilled to report that the new site became fully functional in August, 2019.  

We would love to take you on a personalized tour! Reach out any time. 

We are also constantly adding and improving content within the site from new music, to new video and audio tutorials and guides. For example, we’ve recently added ten new ensemble pieces by Celil Refik Kaya representing music of central Asia. We also now have the capability to embed videos on the landing page of every piece in the teaching library so that ensembles around the world can be featured as models when other ensembles are learning a selection.

National Highlights

We now have over 800 curriculum users across the United States. Each week we hear about successes and challenges from our teaching partners far and wide. Our online Teacher Forum, email newsletter, GuitarCurriculum blog, webinar series, and social media channels are all ways we seek to stay in touch, and provide support for our many partner teachers. Of course we also have direct contact with teachers who attend our Teacher Training Summits (2019 Summits were in Austin and St. Louis), through in-service training (we visited New Mexico in 2019), and by individual email and telephone support.

Two places our team has spent the most time in person, on the phone, and online, have been St. Louis and Cleveland. We have enthusiastically invested a lot of resources in both areas because the leaders there have reflected back such tremendous energy, and such willingness to do the hard work of growth and community development, while at the same time always putting the needs of their communities first.

Cleveland Classical Guitar under the direction of Erik Mann has been so incredibly beautiful to watch. They have produced innovative programming, been in the local and national news a bunch (like this beautiful CBS Sunday Morning Broadcast), and this year won a $150,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation to grow their programming to reach 500 students each week.

St. Louis Classical Guitar, run for many years by Bill Ash, and now led by super-talented Executive Director Kevin Ginty, has built more than twenty beautiful school programs. Our team has been in St. Louis training teachers every summer for seven years. The reach of their services has been a beautiful thing to watch first-hand. So you can imagine how happy we were when Bill Ash was recognized this year by the Missouri Arts Council as Arts Education Hero of The Year!

You have to imagine with us a time ten years ago when we had no sister organizations building education programs of this caliber anywhere in the country. Or twenty years ago when school-based guitar education was rarely found anywhere at all, few resources or standards existed, and our ideas were met with skepticism. Fast-forward to today when so many thousands of kids are finding joy and identity in school through participation in guitar, and partner organizations are winning major grants and awards, it’s like jet fuel for the ACG engine!

International Highlights

Who would have thought that a nonprofit music service organization in Austin, Texas, could help inspire kids in Mexico, could help put guitars in the hands of students in Cambodia, could train teachers in Nicaragua, or help build and fund a music education program in an orphanage in Kathmandu, Nepal? Who would have thought that the same organization could develop a Braille and audio guide lifelong learning resource that people as far away as Montenegro would want to raise funds to translate and bring to serve blind and visually impaired students in the Balkan Peninsula? 

Not us! Yet here we are. 

We’ve been overjoyed this year by our many wonderful connections across the globe. Some of our partnerships are well-established, like our work with Ravindra Paudyal at the Early Childhood Development Center in Kathmandu, Nepal. Ravindra regularly sends us videos of kids playing beautifully and confidently, and has plans to grow the program in Nepal soon. 

Other initiatives are bubbling rapidly, like Rados Malidzan’s plan – mentioned earlier – to bring our LetsPlayGuitar.org Braille lifelong learning resource to Montenegro.

And still more programs, like our new partnership with the Caring For Cambodia network of schools, are just getting started. With our friends at Calido Guitars we’re just now sending twenty new guitars to Cambodia, and will begin teacher training soon. 

Pro-Social Ecosystem

From time to time we like to share some of the theories behind the work we do. Several years ago, for example, we shared the Five Elements Theory of Deep Personal Significance that is the basis of our Teacher Behavior training and evaluation. While these theories can seem esoteric, we believe they are at the heart of what has made ACG successful overall because they guide and focus our work.

Pro-Social Ecosystem is the top concept to emerge from our 2018 Strategic Planning Process. It is the acknowledgement that our work does not happen in a vacuum, and the significance of an experience someone has with us is different based on who they are, and on what levels that experience resonates. In an effort to be the very best, most positively impactful service organization we can be, we have begun the development of a Pro-Social Ecosystem Playbook, and so far have defined three vectors: Breadth, Depth, and Interrelation.

Breadth refers to who we have the opportunity to impact at ACG. Our implicit goal is to have the widest breadth of impact possible. So along this vector are discussions of diversity in terms of ethnicity, culture, age, artistry, geography, economics, etc.

Depth refers to the impact itself. Not just the how, but the quality, relevance, resonance, value, transformative power, taking into account especially that what might make deep impact for one individual, can be quite different than what might make deep impact for another. This involves, then, investigation of personal significance (ACG Mission), and personal relevance (see Eric Booth’s Red Wheelbarrow video).

Interrelation refers to the mixing of both elements, potentially even in the absence of ACG involvement. An example might be a peer mentor program where students are coaching other students. Another example would be a student service project where students perform in retirement facilities. By mixing training, learning, performing, and production, with multiple populations, ACG sets in motion through Interrelation programming that expands both Breadth and Depth.

This year’s overall theme at ACG is Together. Together (see the poster image at the bottom of this report) is a direct outgrowth, of our Pro-Social Ecosystem Theory. We look forward to reporting on the progress of this theory and the various ways in which it will impact ACG Education in the months and years to come.


Thank You!

The programs and services described in this report are made possible through the generous support of many individual and institutional donors, including:

City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Augustine Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Kaman Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Webber Family Foundation, Still Water Foundation, Lucy & Bill Farland, Rea Charitable Trust, Texas Commission on the Arts, HEB Tournament of Champions Charitable Trust, Tingari-Silverton Foundation, Kodosky Foundation, Long Foundation, The Skeel/Baldauf Family, Louise Epstein & John Henry McDonald, Bill Metz, MFS Foundation, University Area Rotary Club, Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, Applied Materials Foundation, Shield-Ayres Foundation, Seawell Elam Foundation, Sue L. Nguyen Management Trust, Dr. Michael Froehls, Sarah & Ernest Butler, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, Carl Caricari & Margaret Murray Miller, Burdine Johnson Foundation, Rich & Caryn Puccio, Wright Family Foundation, 3M Foundation, Karrie & Tim League, Kendal & Ken Gladish, Jack & Vanessa Wolfe, D’Addario Foundation, Kerry & Carole Price, Rixen Law, Bank of America, Elaine & Michael Kasper, IBC Bank Austin, Strait Music, Urban Betty, Inc, PwC, Tesoros Trading Company, Calido Guitars, Ted Held & Nuria Zaragoza, Chelle & David Neff, Lazan & Bill Pargaman, and many, many others.

If you would like to make a contribution to support ACG Education, click here, or call us at 512-300-2247.