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Published: Thursday, 5/3/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Stewart Academy's girls are rock stars for VH1

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sixth graders at Ella P. Stewart Academy for Girls, including Latyia Bourn, left, concentrate on learning to play the guitar. On Wednesday, they played for representatives of the VH1 Save the Music campaign. Sixth graders at Ella P. Stewart Academy for Girls, including Latyia Bourn, left, concentrate on learning to play the guitar. On Wednesday, they played for representatives of the VH1 Save the Music campaign.
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Upstrokes, downstrokes, voices, and the occasional lament of a lost pick Wednesday filled the Ella P. Stewart Academy for Girls music room.

Teacher Ted Meyers -- sweat pouring down his face as if he were midset in a rock show -- yelled out instructions and encouragement as he played along himself. Suddenly, he stopped the show.

"Wait, that doesn't sound right," he said, and changed chords. "No, it's C."

The 700 block of Avondale Avenue isn't the most likely location for an acoustic guitar jam, but several times a week the girls don their inner Jimi Hendrix and learn to play. The music session Wednesday was a special set, played for representatives of the VH1 Save the Music campaign, the group that provided the guitars.

PHOTO GALLERY: Stewart Academy guitar lessons

Students learn the basics in the class, with chords stripped down to simplify lessons. Mr. Meyers wants his students to learn rhythm patterns, some music literature, and to sing while playing. Girls in Stewart's sixth grade extolled their favorite guitarists and music styles. The instruments' placement at the all girls' school is a minor barrier breaker, since normally guitars are seen as, "like, a boys thing," Jakia Pearson, 12, said.

"I think playing the guitar is a learning experience," Keyonna Carnes, 12, said.

Originally donated to McKinley Elementary more than a decade ago, the $25,000 collection of classical guitars fits in well at Stewart, since Mr. Meyers himself plays. But the school was close to losing his services over the summer, and possibly the guitars.

Save the Music grantee and compliance manager Chiho Okuizumi tours schools that received instruments to see how they're used. It's a chance to update donors, but the visits also could carry consequences. Schools that don't use the instruments as intended could lose them.

Music teacher Ted Meyers plays along -- and shouts out advice -- as his students practice their guitar techniques. The students use a $25,000 collection of classical guitars that was originally donated to McKinley Elementary more than a decade ago. Music teacher Ted Meyers plays along -- and shouts out advice -- as his students practice their guitar techniques. The students use a $25,000 collection of classical guitars that was originally donated to McKinley Elementary more than a decade ago.
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo

In a bid to cut costs, Toledo Public Schools proposed eliminating all music, art, and physical education specialists at elementary schools last year during negotiations with its teachers' union, proposing that regular classroom instructors teach those courses.

Decried by the teachers, parents, and students, the district dropped the bid after a mediator rejected the proposal.

"What we found was that the community really wants music to be a part of their children's curriculum," Mr. Meyers said.

So does Save the Music, which promotes elementary music education. The district's decision meant the music organization didn't need to consider reclaiming the guitars, and Wednesday's visit was a happy occasion.

"The instruments are useless without a great music teacher like Mr. Meyers," Ms. Okuizumi said.

A photographer from Guitar World magazine took pictures of the class as they performed to be featured in the magazine, Ms. Okuizumi said.

So for at least one day, the girls at Ella P. Stewart got to be rock stars.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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