Co-written by Sam Votaw
For children living in foster care, consistency can be a virtually foreign concept. Often the victims of unfathomable abuse and neglect, these individuals then begin to seek security and belonging within a system where repeated home transfers—and the ensuing revolving door of friendly faces without ample enough time to make an impact—are unfortunately the norm.
Realizing that these children both require and deserve more long-term hope than is systemically implemented, Travis County federal prosecutor Karyn Scott pivoted the mission of her donated clothing program entitled Kids in New Digs in 2009 to create Kids In a New Groove (KING), a program utilizing music to inspire disadvantaged kids throughout their foster years as well as supply them with a brand new skill set and sense of confidence that continues to benefit them well after they age out of foster care.
While many organizations attempt to reach foster children through music instruction, Kids In a New Groove is the only one of its kind in the state of Texas that doesn’t solely rely on school band/orchestra or after school programs. Since foster kids in Texas can be expected to move homes and/or schools an average of at least six times, these types of programs aren’t readily accessible for those foster kids curious about learning and ultimately performing music.
Instead, KING pairs dedicated music mentors with interested and eligible children aged five to 22 years of age, who are submitted to the program through foster agencies, parents, or CPS. These music mentors volunteer 30 minutes of their time a week to provide private music lessons in the child’s own home, and continues to follow them wherever they might find themselves in the moving process for at least one year, though tenures of about two a half years are the most common. One volunteer, in an astounding example of commitment, has been with KING for over five years.
These relationships accomplish more than just one-way transferring of skills onto a new generation, however. Mentors commonly grow into respected and beloved figures in children’s lives where stability was once a fragile concept. Mentors are regularly invited by their respective students to attend birthday parties, graduations, and, in real tear jerking scenarios, adoptions. This is because KING promotes so much more than just music: KING is a champion for empowerment and personal growth.
In the eight years since KING’s conception in 2009, the program has grown tremendously in both its breadth and its depth. Though it began modestly, with three mentors offering their time and support to 15 students, KING actively empowers over 140 students today, with a support staff of over 60 mentors. The impact of these amazing individuals is nearly impossible to quantify, but a few key statistics can provide a general idea of the ways music instruction has benefited disadvantaged youth:
82% increase in math scores
54% increase in reading scores
100% high school graduation rate (unique to KING)
This is demonstrable, quantifiable evidence of the positive influence that KING has brought to its students. The last statistic is particularly compelling, and it becomes even more cogent when contrasted against the national average graduation rate for youth in foster care: 47%. This drastic difference is a testament to the transformative power of the KING program, which accomplishes so much more than teaching music. KING provides a creative outlet for its students; it brings positive role models into the lives of those students; it teaches important life skills that are often neglected in the absence of consistent parenting. Above all, however, KING proves to its participants that they have value, and that there are people who appreciate that value and will persistently pursue their potential because they, the children, deserve it. After many negative experiences in the word, the realization that their presence is both valuable and important to someone else can be revelationary.
Clearly, the value of KING goes far beyond mere music; it effectively touches and even transforms many aspects of the students’ lives. Through music, KING provides the lasting and (most importantly) consistent system of positive relationships and support that is all-too-often lacking in the lives of children in foster care. This support extends into the realms of academic, social and emotional development by teaching youth the concrete tools of empowerment: those rooted in dedication and discipline, curiosity and confidence, self-expression and self-worth.
Photo Credit: Amy Parks Photography