This past summer, my Trademark application for OpporTUNEity® Music Connections was finally approved. For many reasons, this marked a significant turning point for me personally as well as my work with the program. When the Trademark Certificate came in the mail, I joked on social media about how I officially owned a word—all comedy aside, the document from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was a profound and symbolic representation of how far this program has come since 2014. I cried. I celebrated. And I immediately began working on plans for year two of what I now fondly refer to as OpporTUNEity® 2.0.
Below I describe the various partnerships that now define the 2019-2020 academic year. Our “pilot” program with Anna Maria College and Worcester Public Schools has morphed quickly into a far more complex kind of pilot. Maybe no longer a pilot at all? As I juggle the work between Director of Music at Anna Maria College and Director of OpporTUNEity® Music Connections, most days it seems like we’ve extended beyond the definition of program and are more closely aligned to that of an organization. And as my dream of turning OpporTUNEity® into a nonprofit organization comes closer to manifestation, I find myself overwhelmed by the challenge of building a board, writing the Articles of Incorporation, and carrying my vision into the next phase of its development.
The students. The children. The inmates. The leaders of the various partnering organizations that make this work possible. Over 200 people I interact with on a weekly basis color my world in the most unique ways. I look forward to sharing the various experiences I have with each of these partnerships moving forward.
Anna Maria College
Anna Maria College has a long history of excellence in Music Therapy and Music Education. The students accepted into the music program at Anna Maria College who pursue either of these two- degrees come to college with a deep commitment to serve. This year, we have engaged over 40 undergraduate students, majoring in either Music Therapy or Music Education, in the OpporTUNEity® Program at Anna Maria College, with assignments that span across our partnerships in Worcester (as described below).
The OpporTUNEity® college students include freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior students who gain hands on experience applying content learned from their coursework at Anna Maria College as they develop their own curriculum to be applied in their work with the community. Perhaps most importantly, as the college students grown as professionals through these service learning experiences, they simultaneously develop insights into their own privilege as they receive countless lessons in what racism and social justice looks like. These experiences help to ensure our next generation of music professionals are more aware and better equipped to support the diverse populations they serve.
Worcester Public Schools
At present, we have 40 school-age children involved with the OpporTUNEity® Music Program at Anna Maria College distributed over four cohorts: 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grade. These children are bused to Anna Maria College every Wednesday afternoon for music courses designed by the undergraduate students at Anna Maria College: music technology, choir/ear training, piano lessons, and creative expressions. As the children are immersed in enriching experiences on campus, they also gain exposure to the college campus, build community amongst themselves and the college undergraduate students, and begin to establish the believe that college is attainable for them. OpporTUNEity® is designed to retain each new cohort of children, providing lessons and mentorship to each of them as they move from 4th to 12th grade with the intention of recruiting them into the program as OpporTUNEity instructors post-high school graduation.
Burncoat UNITES is a youth leadership development program for high school students in Worcester. Elementary and High School students are bused to Burncoat Middle School on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons for 3 hours of music lessons, classes and homework help provided by high school elementary and high school students in the district. Because the prioritization is on leadership development in high school students, the quality of music instruction has ample room for improvement. As part of OpporTUNEity’s® efforts to grow afterschool opportunities for our OpporTUNEity® children, we have established a partnership this year with Burncoat UNITES that will allow us to provide afterschool practice support in the practice rooms at Burncoat Middle School to all OpporTUNEity® children (bused to Burncoat Middle School from Lincoln St. courtesy of Burncoat UNITES) on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. In the spirit of reciprocity and in alignment with the mission of OpporTUNEity® to serve, OpporTUNEity®college instructors have been employed to help UNITES high schoolers strengthen their curriculum design and delivery of instruction as they mentor all OpporTUNEity® youth in the program AND Burncoat UNITES instructors.
Worcester Housing Authority
A high percentage of OpporTUNEity® students from Worcester Public Schools reside in Great Brook Valley. We partner with Worcester Housing Authority to provide afterschool homework help, mentorship, and practice support to all children in the OpporTUNEity® program on Monday afternoons using the Community Center on Freedom Way in the Valley. This partnership combined with our partnership with Burncoat UNITES and Anna Maria College allows us to provide OpporTUNEity® programming on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, keeping the children enrolled in OpporTUNEity® engaged with afterschool enrichment activities that keep them engaged in positive learning activities.
Joy of Music Program (JOMP)
For a number of years, Worcester Housing Authority (WHA) attempted to enact a partnership with Joy of Music Program with the hopes of establishing an integrated choir between JOMP enrolled students and WHA youth transported from the Valley to JOMP on Tuesday evenings. It was never successful because efforts to integrate required more supports than JOMP had available to them. In the spirit of reciprocity and in alignment with the mission of OpporTUNEity® to serve, we send OpporTUNEity® undergraduate students from Anna Maria College to JOMP on Tuesday evenings to support a stronger integration of children from WHA and JOMP in their choral program.
Songwriting Project with Worcester County House of Corrections
The Songwriting Project closes the loop for the OpporTUNEity® program at Anna Maria College as the funds generated both supports the project with the Worcester County House of Corrections (WCHoC) and helps to underwrite the expenses of the OpporTUNEity® partnership with Worcester Public Schools. In essence, all fees collected from WCHoC that fund the Songwriting project are generated by monies collected from inmates as items purchased within the facility (snacks, etc.) are used to fund the OpporTUNEity® Songwriting Project. These funds both pay for the Songwriting Project offered to the inmates and the bus transportation provided to all OpporTUNEity® children on Wednesday afternoons.
At its core, OpporTUNEity® is designed to lift children out of poverty, leveraging music to bring students from traditionally underserved communities and backgrounds to the college campus weekly, with the intention of helping them build portfolios of achievement while encouraging them to pursue higher education post-high school graduation. Since many of the children in the Anna Maria College OpporTUNEity® partnership with Worcester Public Schools live in Great Brook Valley, they are highly vulnerable to gang involvement with daily temptations that have detrimental potential on their futures before they even start. The rationale behind using the surplus funds from the songwriting project at the correctional facility to underwrite the cost of OpporTUNEity® is grounded in the notion of a school-to-prison pipeline.