How I Used Free Resources to Build My Music Program

Picture it. August of 2015. I was a teacher who had just relocated his whole family from Florida to New York City. Fortunately, I had found a job as music teacher split between two schools. On my first day in class, my students had nothing. Only me. No instruments, no razzle dazzle, just me. Fast forward to December of 2018. My classroom now has 10 keyboards, 6 acoustic guitars, a bass guitar, an electronic drum set, and a portable PA system. My intention with this article is to share how I got from August 2015 to December 2018.

A letter from one of McKanstry’s students to a donor.

During my first year, I heard about an organization from my Arts Matter mentor that was supplying schools with instruments needed to start a modern band program. The name of this organization is Little Kids Rock, and after attending an amazing professional development workshop, attendees were given points which were redeemable for instruments and materials. By attending this professional development, I was able to supply our students with 4 keyboards, a portable PA system, and 6 acoustic guitars. This was great, but with 30 plus students in some classes, my program would need more materials in order to survive.

A few months ago, I heard about, a website that allows donors the opportunity to select classroom projects to fund. At first, I was a bit apprehensive and skeptical as this was something new. However, I persisted and decided to give it a try. The site allows teachers to to write mini grants for supplies for their classroom. After completing the information I clicked the button to launch my project and emailed about five or six parents from my school. Of course, as with anything new, I started psyching myself out. “What if no one gives?” “This probably won’t work out!” These are but two questions of many that ran through my mind. I remember this experience vividly. I launched our project on a Wednesday. By Thursday morning, we had our first donation from one of our parents. By noon that Friday, the project was fully funded. Just like that, a bass guitar and an electronic drum set were on their way to our school. I was elated for my program and what this would mean for our students. While we were waiting for our materials, I figured I’d try to put together another project for some additional materials and instruments for our budding modern band. This time, I was expecting the same results as before. Three days had gone by and not a single donation. However, by the time a week had passed, we received our first donation from a colleague of mine and shortly after the project was fully funded by an anonymous donor. Music stands, two keyboards, and new headphones were on their way to my classroom. Within about three weeks, all the materials had arrived. I can remember the confusion and excitement as these large boxes were brought into the classroom. “Mr. McKanstry is that for us?”, “Mr. McKanstry did you buy this?”, “Oh wow I love playing drums!” These are just a few of the questions students were asking on this awesome day. The students were so excited, several of them volunteered to help me set up and organize the classroom incorporating our new instruments.

Students of McKanstry at Lafayette Academy

Throughout this brief article, I have mentioned to key relationships that have greatly improved my music program. However, there’s one more key relationship I need to unpack. That is the relationship between me and my principal. We do not always agree. However, I value our relationship because my principal, Brian Zager genuinely cares about the students and teachers. If there’s ever anything I need for my music curriculum he makes sure that I have exactly that. Mr. Zager made sure I had keyboards and other instruments to use before I ever discovered Donorschoose. For that I am grateful.

In closing, teaching is no walk in the park. Teaching music in New York City complicated things even more. This is such a big town and can be exhaustingly overwhelming. However, take things at your own pace. Don’t feel like you have to explore every partnership in your first couple years. Everyone’s journey is different. It has been my pleasure to share mine with you. Below is a link to the organizations I mentioned in this article and a few other resources I’ve found along the way. All the best to you.

Jameel McKanstry is a teacher, Music director and actor. Jameel is a graduate of the College of Music at Florida State University. He currently in his 8th year of teaching, 4 of which have been in New York City. Jameel is the music teacher at Lafayette Academy where started the music program which now has chorus, musical theater, and now a modern band.

Little Kids Rock
Symphony Space
Carnegie Hall