The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and Pathways to Education: A New Path to Accessible Music Education

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and Pathways to Education: A New Path to Accessible Music Education

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony and Pathways to Education:  A New Path to Accessible Music Education

Our sincere thanks to Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Director of Education Christopher Sharpe, who prepared this report for us!

Since 2009, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony (KWS) has partnered with Kitchener Pathways to Education to provide a music component to Pathways’ successful after-school programs.  Pathways to Education Canada is a charitable organization created to reduce poverty and its effects by lowering the high school dropout rate and increasing access to post-secondary education among disadvantaged youth in Canada. The Pathways to Education Program is a proven effective model, first created and implemented in 2001 in Regent Park by the Regent Park Community Health Centre.  The Pathways to Education Program provides four key supports to ensure that young people will successfully complete high school, continue on to post-secondary programs and become actively engaged in their career development. The four supports are:

Academic - Tutoring in five core subjects, four nights a week

Social - Group mentoring for grades 9 and 10, specialty and career mentoring for grades 11 and 12

Financial - Immediate financial support such as free bus tickets tied to attendance and a bursary for post-secondary education (up to $4,000 per student in the program)

Advocacy - Student-Parent Support Workers help connect teens, parents, school administration, teachers and community agencies

Pathways was established in Kitchener in 2007 and currently provides services to over 300 students and their families.  Two Kitchener neighbourhoods have opened their doors to the Pathways to Education Program. Both communities are diverse, with a wealth of languages and cultures represented among the participants. The two neighbourhoods, both of which are in the south-central core of Kitchener, have a high percentage of families living in public housing and new Canadians settling in the areas. Most importantly, with two of the highest dropout rates in Kitchener, the families in these neighbourhoods are eager to see the program succeed in their communities.

The initial idea of creating a music program component within Pathways came from Patrick Murray, a high school intern who had worked with both organizations and saw a connection.  With the blessing of Megan Conway, Director of Kitchener Pathways to Education, the KW Symphony offered a summer workshop to discover the activities the students were most interested in.  The KWS team then designed a program with the following features:

-  guest passes for Pathways students and family members  to select KWS concerts
-  music appreciation workshops
-  free weekly music lessons with professional teachers from the KWS and the community
-  free loan of music instruments
-  performance opportunities at the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts and in the community

In 2010, 30 Pathways high school students are currently studying violin, cello, piano, guitar, percussion  and voice with professional instructors from the KWS and the community. All lessons and performances take place at the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts, the new administration and education headquarters for the KWS in downtown Kitchener.

Pathways to Education evaluates the program each year through in-depth surveys of the teachers and students so that the program can be improved each year.   The KWS hopes that the program can expand to the point where siblings of the Pathways students can receive the same music education and opportunities. As well, it’s a KWS goal that all students studying an orchestral instrument reach the level where they can participate in one of the 5 ensembles in our Youth Orchestra Program. This would open up many new opportunities to the students as they receive more advanced training in working with ensembles that rehearse and perform on a regular basis.

The KWS Pathways program receives generous funding from individual donors and corporate donors who appreciate how this program helps remove barriers to public access to music education.

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