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First grade students at the Newberg school are afforded a unique chance to work with the instrument

GARY ALLEN - Edwards Elementary School students show off their prowess on the violin in conjunction with the BRAVO Youth Orchestra from Portland on Friday in Newberg.

Two years ago, the Yamhill Enrichment Society – an organization that aims to provide local kids access to literacy, music and the arts – approached adminstrators at Edwards Elementary School with an idea. The group proposed the formation of a violin program for kids similar to the one at BRAVO Youth Orchestras in Portland.

With the enrichment society's full financial support, the school agreed and started the program – called the Junior Orchestra of Yamhill County or JOY – with a class of kindergartners last year. The society bought violins for the kids and paid for an instructor – Julia Pridavka – to come out to the school and teach music students the basics of the instrument. It began with empty tissue boxes before the kids were each given a violin to practice with.

Edwards music teacher Janis Dodson said it was helpful for the kids to practice with tissue boxes before they were entrusted with the actual instruments. She and Pridavka broke down instrument safety with students in addition to teaching them the ins and outs of playing.

"They treated those tissue boxes like their babies or like a little animal," Dodson said with a laugh. "Now they do the same with their violins. We haven't had one violin broken."

Now, as first grade students, those same kids are working with actual violins and – Dodson hopes – finding an interest in what they are playing. Dodson said the school received a grant from the Yamhill County Cultural Coalition to fund a collaborative partnership with BRAVO, and that led to the organization visiting Edwards students on Friday for an event in the gym.

Each of the students had a partner from the program who was near their age. This, Dodson said, will allow her students to feel a sense of community in their learning experience. Next year, many of these same kids will visit BRAVO in Portland and check out their facilities.

The Friday meeting also introduced the kids to a variety of string instruments other than the violin.

"They've only done violin up to this point and with this they are introduced to kids who play the viola and cello," Dodson said. "They saw the commitment to their instruments and hopefully got excited about pursuing one of their own."

Dodson said studies show that students who are involved in learning an instrument do better in school overall and are far more engaged with learning other subjects. With an artistic outlet, the kids in her classes seem to thrive elsewhere, she said.

The group of first grade students, according to Dodson, has performed at various venues and recently did so alongside middle and high school string orchestras.

The JOY program plans to expand to an after-school club as well, providing kids the opportunity to go a step further in their music education.

Dodson said they are always looking for monetary or instrument donations as well. Individuals and local businesses looking to donate to the program can visit www.yamhillenrichmentsociety.org for more information.

So far, the benefit has been tangible for students and Dodson said she envisions the program continuing for years to come if they can find the financial assistance necessary.

"We were able to integrate it into the music program," she said. "We have a fabulous music program here in Newberg at the various elementary schools and to be able to add this just makes it that much better."

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