Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders with autism and related disabilities from The Children’s Institute (TCI), a NJ Department of Education approved private school in Verona, NJ, have been taking music lessons at School of Rock Montclair, an after school program for young musicians ages seven to 17. The students’ parents, administrators from TCI, and staffers at School of Rock Montclair have been surprised by how receptive the students have been to the experience – and how much previously untapped musical talent they possess.
“While TCI has a middle school chorus and a high school chorus, this was probably the first exposure to playing rock music for most of the boys who participated,” says Val Saar, After School Program Coordinator at TCI Verona. “It was amazing to see how much they improved between the first session and the last.”
School of Rock Montclair’s unique performance-based education program – which organizes students into bands, teaches them how to play the biggest hits of their favorite artists, and then arranges for them to perform on stage at local rock clubs – was discovered by Gina Catania, TCI Verona’s School Principal. Catania had heard about School of Rock from a Verona parent whose special needs child takes lessons there.
“An important element of TCI’s mission is to help our students integrate into the larger community, with the goal of having them feel comfortable and hopefully participate in activities with their typically developing peers,” says Jennifer L. Miller, Public Information Officer at TCI. “While new experiences are often difficult for individuals on the autism spectrum, the boys who participated at School of Rock Montclair were very enthusiastic, and by the third session, they very comfortable with the class format and expectations.”
Kevin March, General Manager at School of Rock, has been working with the TCI students since November ‘15.
“I taught the students how to play hits like ‘We Will Rock You’ by Queen, ‘Police On My Back’ by The Clash, ‘Who Are You?’ by The Who, ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams, and ‘Downtown’ by Petula Clark – which turned out to be one of their favorite songs,” says March. “It was a real joy to see them smile more and more each week as they grew as individual musicians and also with each other as a band.”
Along with the fun, focus, and improved socialization skills that the SoR experience brought to the students, March was also impressed by the innate musical ability that the TCI students possessed.
“Some of the students had incredible pitch recognition and were able to reproduce the exact notes that I asked them to sing,” says March. “There were also two students who really liked the drums, and exhibited very steady, natural rhythm as well as the ability to produce a great sound when they played.”
“The parents of the students who are participating in the School of Rock music lessons couldn’t be happier with how much their children are enjoying it,” says Miller. “One dad told me that his son has identified with music since he was a baby, and School of Rock allows him to experience it in a whole new way.”