Looking Back: North Miami Middle School

Looking Back: North Miami Middle School

It’s 2018, and here at Guitars Over Guns, we’re looking back on 10 incredible years of making music and changing lives. Way back in 2008, our very first program was launched at North Miami Middle School. We partnered with Communities In Schools of Miami to begin offering no-cost music instruction and mentorship to NMMS students. Right away, it was clear that something magical was taking place. Little did we know, however, that this one little program at one local middle school would ultimately grow into a 10-year journey reaching more than 3,000 youth in Miami and Chicago! We couldn’t be more proud and grateful to be celebrating this milestone anniversary and reflecting on the impact our programs have had on our community’s most deserving youth. Here’s to another 10...
“It’s just a matter of time”

“It’s just a matter of time”

by Miami mentor Leo DaVincci Stepping into Brownsville Middle School, I didn’t know what to expect to be honest. When I was asked to change from Georgia Jones-Ayers Middle School in Allapattah, I was a bit hesitant, not because of what I had heard about Brownsville, but simply because I was very attached to the culture we have at Georgia Jones. Brownsville has had a bad stigma, known as a school with bullies, gangs and negligent teachers and staff. As we started the school year, we were told that they were in the midst of change throughout all staff including new teachers and a new principal. This particular change has included a new culture – a new vibe to the school if you will.  Alongside its other after-school programs (Allstars & Girl Power), Guitars Over Guns comes in to fit like the glass slipper for Cinderella, filling a vacant area the school had yet to offer. In our first couple weeks, the kids were a bit skeptical but still willing to hear us out. Bullying was one of the first things we established as something unacceptable in this musical environment, a message we wanted them to carry out during the school year. One example was one of our 6th graders, who was being picked on right in front of me and who within seconds ran out of the classroom crying. When approached, she kept saying she didn’t want to participate, let alone be there. That’s when Mr. Devakonda (a 6th-grade math teacher at Brownsville)  and myself told her this was not right and that we didn’t want her to...
SMDCAC Summer Camp Success!

SMDCAC Summer Camp Success!

This July, we hosted a five-week summer intensive at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center to teach local youth how to play the guitar. Guitars Over Guns mentor Sean “Birdman” Gould taught the youngest group of ten students, who ranged in age from 8-13. In addition to teaching the students, some parents also joined in to learn how to play the guitar with their kids. “The kids and their parents working together was really inspiring to witness. Communicating through learning music,” Birdman said about the experience. Over the five weeks, Birdman’s students were able to learn two songs completely and from memory. These two songs, “I Want Candy” and “Jamming in the Night,” were both performed in the showcase at the end of the camp. The latter song was actually conceived and written by Birdman’s students during the camp. The song was composed by the students on a bit of a whim. Originally, the students were learning a different song that turned out to be too difficult for beginners. As Birdman was teaching the students the basic guitar chords, they were inspired to write and arrange their own song, “Jamming in the Night.” Writing their own original song wasn’t the only accomplishment that impressed Birdman. One day, a student named Symphony came up to Birdman and said she created her own syncopated strumming pattern. Her reasoning? “The original one was too boring.” This showed that she was truly interested in music, and might become an aspiring songwriter. When asked about the most rewarding moment of the entire camp, Birdman said the answer was easy: seeing the parents respond to...
Not Your Average Family Reunion

Not Your Average Family Reunion

Here at Guitars Over Guns, our mentors are one big family. That’s why, when our Miami and Chicago teams gathered at Camillus House headquarters for our annual mentor training retreat – affectionately known as our “Family Reunion” – plenty of hugs, laughter and love (and empanadas!) accompanied the two days of learning and growth. Presentations were delivered by Guitars Over Guns Founder & CEO Chad Bernstein, COO Jono De Leon, Chicago Regional Director Andrew De Muro and Director of Development Josh Flanders to help mentors prepare for the coming school year. From team-building exercises with a comedic musical twist, to recognizing our mentors’ many achievements, to thoughtful discussions about building effective mentoring relationships with students, our mentor crew left the retreat prepared – and excited – to hit the ground running. We were also lucky to welcome guest speakers from Miami and Chicago institutions including Maven Leadership Collective and Teach For America, who helped our mentors delve into challenging topics and build their skills as leaders. At the end of Day 2, our mentors parted ways with tearful goodbyes as our Chicago team prepared to head home. After another successful training retreat, we can’t wait to start the school year with renewed perspective, strength and leadership – and with “Family Reunion” memories to last a...
Building a bright future

Building a bright future

Here at Guitars Over Guns, music isn’t our only focus. Our arts-based mentorship programs empower youth from vulnerable communities to succeed and thrive not only on stage, but also in the classroom and in their communities. That’s why we’re so grateful to have been awarded a generous contribution of $25,000 from AT&T toward providing academic support, standardized test prep, and college application guidance for our high school students. The funding aims to support 45-60 at-risk high school students in North Miami and Miami Gardens, primarily of Haitian, African-American, and Hispanic descent, through meaningful mentoring relationships that foster students’ academic, social-emotional, and artistic growth, helping them thrive on a timely path to college. Aided by this donation, our approach for high school students focuses on relationship-building, academic achievement, and activity involvement that lead to career interest and comprise a strong college application. In addition to test preparation, the funding will help Guitars Over Guns provide college and career advising as students prepare to graduate. The support is in line with AT&T’s goal of creating connections that drive innovation in education. AT&T is investing in innovative education organizations, tools, and solutions; and employing technology and capabilities that are unique to the company to make a positive impact on education. The company believes that every student deserves opportunities to reach their full potential. We can’t wait to help our students reach their full potential. Thank you, AT&T, for helping our students build a path toward...