Learn more about our Collaborator, Kids in a new Groove

Panoramic Voices Artistic Director Brent Baldwin held a text interview with Laura Wood, Executive Director of Kids In A New Groove (KING), on October 30, 2019.

Brent Baldwin and Laura Wood

Brent Baldwin and Laura Wood

Brent Baldwin (BB): Can you tell us a bit about KING?

Laura Wood (LW): At Kids In A New Groove (KING), we provide over 185 Central Texas youth in foster care, ages 5- 22, with weekly mentorship through free, in-home music lessons. We recruit volunteer music mentors in all lesson areas (even music production) and carefully pair them with a student, with the goal of giving each student the ability to build concrete strategies for life-long success. On top of the weekly music lessons, we also offer student workshops throughout the year to expose them to different aspects of the music industry and potential career opportunities, such as songwriting, recording studio, and radio station workshops. KING also aims to build confidence in our students through providing them with performance opportunities throughout the year in supportive environments. Seeing the excitement, nerves, confidence and pride in each student when they finish performing is priceless and visual proof of the importance of our program for kids in foster care.

BB: How unique is KING, on the national level? Are there other similar programs out there, or an extended network?

LW: Kids In A New Groove is actually the only program in the United States that serves youth in foster care through music in the way that we do. Many youth in foster care are unable to participate in afterschool programs, band, orchestra, etc. for many different reasons. One main reason being that, on average, youth in foster care move homes, on average, six times while in care, making it difficult for them to consistently participate in programs. Another is transportation. Because of this, we remove the barriers facing them by bringing the program to them. Our music mentors go to our students' homes every single week for lessons, allowing them to be able to continue lessons with them if they move homes and easing the burden of transportation for their foster parents.

BB: Can you think of a story that best describes KING’s success?

LW: One recent story that sticks out in my mind is one of our 17-year old percussion students, Warner. He has been taking percussion lessons with his music mentor, Mark, for almost two years now. Warner grew up with a mother who struggled with drug addiction. Five years ago, he moved in with his biological father due to neglect from his mother. Shortly after, his father had a heart attack and tragically passed away, causing him to enter foster care at the age of 15. Not too long after, his caseworker enrolled him into our program. Over the past year and a half of weekly, in-home drum lessons with his music mentor, he has transformed into a confident young man with goals to attend college for percussion. This year, KING launched a partnership with Spirit Airlines in order to provide free college airfare to our students (including travel for college visits and interviews), with Warner being the first student. When we went to his house and surprised him with a new drum kit and free college airfare, he was beyond shocked, saying "I didn't think college was even a possibility for me before KING, especially anything outside of Austin." It was a moment I will never forget and is a beautiful description of the true mission of our program: giving each student that comes into our program the tools and belief in themselves that if they work hard, they can achieve great things.

Video by Swng Productions, featuring Panoramic Voices guest composer and singer Alan Retamozo

BB: In light of your 100% graduation rate, what do you think it is about music that ensures greater success in education?

LW: Music truly changes every aspect of our student's lives. It is scientifically proven to improve language abilities, increase attention span and focus, self-confidence, empathy, emotional resiliance, and so much more. Kids In A New Groove is proof of this. For the past five years, 100% of Kids In A New Groove eligible high school seniors have graduated from high school and 95% have gone on to attend college, technical school or enlist in the military. This is compared to the national average of less than 50% of youth in foster care graduating from high school and less than 3% attending college. The music mentorship we provide at Kids In A New Groove plays an integral part in the success of our students.

BB: How can people get involved with KING?

LW: There are several ways to get involved with Kids In A New Groove. We are always looking for more volunteer music mentors to work with our students each week, in all lesson areas in Travis, Williamson, and Hays counties. Another way to get involved is to donate a new or gently used instrument to our program. We provide instruments and all lesson materials at no cost to our students, and we rely heavily on community donations in order to do so. A fun way to get involved and support our mission is to become a member of the 2020 KING Concert Club, gaining you access to four intimate concerts throughout the year with Austin artists and our students as the opening acts. All proceeds from the KING Concert Club go directly to our students. For other ways and to stay up-to-date on KING events, follow us on social media (@KidsInANewGroove on Facebook and Instagram, @Kidsgroove on twitter) and spread the word about the importance of our mission!