One of the things we’re most proud of here at ACG is our for-credit classical guitar program at the Travis County Juvenile Detention Center in partnership with Austin Independent School District. The program, now in its 6th year, has been featured on national television on the PBS NewsHour.

 In honor of Jeremy’s 10 years of service to ACG, we’re dedicating our May Fund Drive to him. Click here to make a gift.

We hope you enjoy this story.

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L: Gardner Betts guitar instructor Jeremy Osborne assists student with his nails in preparation for his first class. R: Guitar students return to their school day carrying the guitars provided to them by the ACG guitar program.

It’s a full-size guitar. It has frets, strings, a sound hole, bracing. The frets are straight, thin, it has the correct number of them. There is a decorated rosette. It even has its own display stand.

But this guitar is made of paper. Copy paper, specifically. Yarn and tape were used in the detailed, caring construction as well.

It was made by one of our students; let’s call him David. David is incarcerated at the Travis County Juvenile Justice Center where one of our staff educators, Jeremy Osborne, teaches two for-credit classes each day. David discovered the guitar, and discovered his ability to learn, practice, perform, and excel on it, in these classes. This past May he played a solo for over one hundred people in the courthouse and received a standing ovation—the first standing ovation of his life, for anything.

Like a lot of kids in detention, David has struggled with motivation, especially with the work he has to do for school and as part of the conditions of his sentence. Guitar changed all of that. Talk to any of his counselors and they’ll tell you – since he picked up the guitar, David’s attitude toward his work was transformed.

Jeremy did not visit the detention center as frequently over the summer, just once or twice a week to check in, give a lesson, make contact. When the new semester began, Jeremy was back to teaching two classes a day. During that first week one of the facility staff members pulled him aside. “You need to see something,” he said.

Jeremy was escorted to a room in another part of the secure facility, where the paper guitar was displayed on its stand. It was David’s guitar, the guitar he had spent the summer creating by carefully rolling and shaping and taping pieces of copy paper, while waiting for Jeremy to come back and for the guitar class to start up again.

We reach people through music education. Where other pursuits might fail, music can forge powerful connections that last a lifetime. Studying music can reveal a better path, and link an individual to themselves and to their community.

At Austin Classical Guitar we think about this a lot. Perhaps it is the absence of specific referential meaning in music—the inherent mystery of musical communication—that helps make a positive musical learning environment a safe, nurturing place to discover one’s identity.

As the number of students we serve grows, so does our responsibility as a teaching community to do the best job we can to discover and promote those attributes of instruction that fuel positive student experiences in arts education.

We need to do this so that the kids we serve will make the kinds of connections with music, with each other, with our community, and with themselves that high-quality arts education can deliver. We need to do this so that more kids like David, who have struggled, who have made bad decisions, who are alienated and at-risk of dropping out of school or worse, will have a safe and supportive place to make something special that they can build an identity around and be proud of.

Paper Guitar