Always Arriving

By Katie Wyatt

I try to ask myself everyday, “Where is our business going? What are the questions we’re trying to answer for our kids?” From there, I follow the path where the answers lead, in hot pursuit and relentlessly.  If there is anything I could say about the success of Kidznotes, it would be that each next step has seemed obvious — and I followed them.

When Kidznotes kicked off in 2010, it was just me, an old laptop, and donated closet space at the Durham Arts Council. With the incredible energy of a scrappy and devoted Board of Directors and my passion for El Sistema as a musician-entrepreneur, that year Kidznotes enrolled 60 Kindergarten through third graders in three Title-1 schools in East Durham. As of 2015, we have grown dramatically to enroll nearly 400 kids. This “Kidznotes Family” of students, parents, faculty, and supporters has grown beyond my wildest expectations. We now have a teaching faculty and administrative staff of over 40 people who embrace the El Sistema spirit of “Tocar y Luchar,” “to play and to strive.” This family has opened so many doors for our kids, and as our family has grown, so has the world available to these students. Constant throughout this evolution has been our commitment to excellence, that all people — no matter their social or economic circumstances — should be challenged to contribute the absolute best of what they have to offer. One story that has touched me in particular is that of Marcus Gee.

For the last five years, I have watched the Gee family experience the unveiling of their son Marcus’ talent and potential in Kidznotes. Marcus started with us as a first grader at E.K. Powe Elementary, beginning on violin as all of our youngest students do. Marcus quickly stood out as a precocious and eager student, rapidly surpassing his peers to become one of the youngest students in our top orchestra at the age of seven. Marcus chose the cello as his next challenge during our summer camp, and to our amazement, was a natural. Since that moment, the Gee family and Kidznotes have been sprinting to keep up with Marcus’ hunger for opportunities, performances, and challenges, advancing his musical education as rapidly as he can master it. Marcus took his first international audition this year for a summer music camp in Banff, Canada. The Gees, like all Kidznotes families, would likely not have had the chance to discover this hidden potential in their son. As a result of teaming up with Kidznotes to support him, they were able to set him loose to thrive.

To back up the heart warming stories with data, Kidznotes works with an independent evaluator to assess the academic, social, and emotional progress of our students. Data is our bread and butter. Through annual evaluation, we track the attendance records of our students in both school and in Kidznotes, we track our students’ EOG (End of Grade Testing) scores, and we assess behavioral and emotional changes as a result of Kidznotes through parent and classroom teacher surveys and focus groups.

In our most recent survey, teachers consistently reported that 74% of Kidznotes students were “A” or “B” students in reading, compared to 64% of their non-Kidznotes classroom peers; 82% of Kidznotes students were “A” or “B” students in mathematics, compared to 65% of comparison students; and 75% of Kidznotes students were considered good problem solvers, compared to 67% of comparison students.  In addition, when compared to non-Kidznotes students in their academic classroom, classroom teachers reported that:

• Kidznotes students are less likely to receive disciplinary actions

• Kidznotes students are more likely to stay on task while in class

• Kidznotes students more likely to “ask for help when it is needed”

• Kidznotes students are more likely to be assessed as “determined and persistent in achieving something he or she wants.”

In our examination of EOG test scores, 47% of Kidznotes students scored proficient or higher in 3rd grade EOG tests in reading and math, compared to 28% (reading) and 35% (math) of their peers and 36% (reading and math) of the Durham Public Schools average. Additionally, 80% of Kidznotes students scored proficient or higher in 5th grade EOG math tests, compared to 36% of their peers and 40% of the Durham Public Schools average.

As you might imagine, I’m ready to take this data up the ranks in Durham and Wake County public schools, especially as North Carolina schools continue to struggle to meet national standards in education.

All this leads me to say that everyday I continue to embrace the El Sistema motto of “Ser y no ser todavia,” “being and not being yet.” We are always arriving and we are always looking ahead.

Katie Wyatt is Co-Founder and Executive Director for Kidznotes, an El Sistema inspired program in Durham and Raleigh, NC. A musician, strategist and community organizer, Katie is a national leader in the social change through music movement. 

Learn more about Kidznotes by watching this video.

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