These kids can rock

Stu­dents en­rolled in the after-school mu­sic pro­gram Rock to the Fu­ture learn mu­sic and study skills. Plus, they per­form at cool ven­ues. Star has the scoop.

They’ve taken the stage at events like Fishtown’s Shad­fest, the Ritten­house Square Tree Light­ing ce­re­mony, and even World Caf&ea­cute; Live and a Phil­adelphia 76ers game.

They’re pro­fi­cient enough at their in­stru­ments to teach oth­ers, and they write their own ori­gin­al songs and mu­sic.

While they’re busy with all that, they man­age to keep ‘A’ av­er­ages in school—ele­ment­ary school, that is.

The young mu­si­cians of the Rock to the Fu­ture after-school mu­sic edu­ca­tion pro­gram are between the ages of 9 and 14, and they are tal­en­ted enough to per­form all over the city, thanks to the time and in­struc­tion of the pro­gram, now go­ing in­to its third year in the fall.

Jes­sica McKay, 27, star­ted Rock to the Fu­ture after ditch­ing her “bor­ing” in­vest­ment firm job down­town in search of something filled with more pas­sion.

“Mu­sic has al­ways been im­port­ant to me,” said McKay, who has been play­ing drums since eighth grade. “I just had this idea.”

Stu­dents at Rock to the Fu­ture learn gui­tar, bass gui­tar, drums, or key­board, form bands, write ori­gin­al mu­sic, and per­form throughout the year at vari­ous com­munity events and ven­ues. 

Stu­dents also re­ceive daily home­work help to im­prove their grades.

They at­tend the pro­gram, at 2139 E. Cum­ber­land Ave., dir­ectly after school un­til 6 p.m., Monday through Fri­day.

This year, in the fall, the pro­gram will be able to ac­cept 33 stu­dents, and thanks to fund­ing from Delaware In­vest­ments, will be able to provide free Sat­urday work­shops for fam­il­ies.

“Mu­sic is a great way to bring the fam­ily to­geth­er,” McKay said.

Though open to all Phil­adelphia stu­dents, McKay said be­cause of the loc­a­tion and time com­mit­ment, most stu­dents are from the Fishtown, Kens­ing­ton and Port Rich­mond areas. She said the pro­gram rep­res­ents stu­dents from eight schools.

McKay got star­ted with the pro­gram by ap­ply­ing for funds through the Wo­men for So­cial In­nov­a­tion pro­gram, which helps young en­tre­pren­eurs. After she was se­lec­ted as a re­cip­i­ent, she said she had only about four months to find in­struct­ors and or­gan­ize the pro­gram.

Along with Josh Craft, 27, now the as­sist­ant dir­ect­or, McKay began Rock to the Fu­ture in the base­ment of a church with 13 stu­dents.

Among them were Chey­enne Ox­endine, 13, and Josh Tirado, 17, who both play gui­tar.

Ox­endine, who at­tends Adaire Ele­ment­ary, said she used to take gui­tar les­sons but they were very ex­pens­ive.

“I had three gui­tars just sit­ting there do­ing noth­ing but be­ing dec­or­a­tions,” she said. “I didn’t have the pa­tience to self-teach.”

Once she ap­plied for the pro­gram and was ac­cep­ted, she said the cost was much more af­ford­able—Rock to the Fu­ture stu­dents only pay a $50 re­turn­able de­pos­it for the en­tire school year.

Ox­endine is a mem­ber of the “all star” band—stu­dents in the pro­gram form bands that write ori­gin­al mu­sic and per­form at ven­ues around the city.

“Now I’m kind of used to be­ing on stage,” she said, after ad­mit­ting that she used to have stage fright. “It’s en­ter­tain­ing that when I’m up there play­ing, people are watch­ing and sup­port­ing me.”

Tirado, who at­tends the Frank­lin Learn­ing Cen­ter, was ori­gin­ally too old to ap­ply for Rock to the Fu­ture, though his young­er sis­ter was a mem­ber. As he would vis­it the pro­gram to pick her up, he said he saw how much fun the oth­er stu­dents were hav­ing.

“I wanted to learn gui­tar really bad, and when my sis­ter was in the pro­gram I really wanted to do it,” he said. “Josh [Craft] said he would teach me gui­tar if I would teach the kids math.”

That peer-to-peer tu­tor men­tal­ity is one McKay said she wants to en­cour­age. Aca­dem­ics, in fact, are a large part of the pro­gram. Along with the 20-minute private les­son, hour-long mu­sic the­ory class and hour-long band prac­tice they take every week, stu­dents have to come in and do their home­work every day as part of the pro­gram. Stu­dents also work with aca­dem­ic tu­tors.

McKay said the pro­gram has seen a 30 per­cent in­crease in stu­dent that hold ‘A’ av­er­ages, and all the stu­dents are now read­ing at or above their grade level. This year, she wants to bring in an aca­dem­ic co­ordin­at­or to do SAT prep.

The in­struct­ors are loc­al mu­si­cians McKay and Craft said they have met through their own mu­sic­al in­volve­ment—both are mem­bers of the bands The Best West­erns and Con­ver­sa­tions with En­emies.

“They are friends of ours, but they are qual­ity in­struct­ors,” she said. “They have to be able to read mu­sic and have form­al train­ing.”

A mu­sic in­struct­or for some 10 years, Craft said it’s great to see the stu­dents work to­geth­er to chal­lenge them­selves to make ori­gin­al mu­sic.

“It’s re­ward­ing, just see­ing them be amaz­ing mu­si­cians,” he said. “I wish I could go back in time and be a stu­dent.”

As for the fu­ture, will Ox­indine and Tirado con­tin­ue to rock?

When asked if they would con­tin­ue to play mu­sic in high school or col­lege, both nod­ded em­phat­ic­ally.

“I’ll want to keep go­ing with mu­sic,” Ox­indine said. “I’ll al­ways carry it.”

To learn more or ap­ply to Rock to the Fu­ture, vis­it www.Rock­tothe­Fu­ture­ or email Rock­tothe­Fu­ture­ .

Star Man­aging Ed­it­or Mi­kala Jam­is­on can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at mjam­is­

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