Student group puts money where the mic is for area youth

School of Rock is a national music education program for students ranging from second grade to high school.

Minnesota School of Rock musician Sydney Johnson sings “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzie at Bogart’s Place in Apple Valley, Minn. on Saturday.

Simon Guerra

Minnesota School of Rock musician Sydney Johnson sings “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzie at Bogart’s Place in Apple Valley, Minn. on Saturday.

Amanda Bankston

For Sam Mathys, it has always been about the drums.

His mother and father can trace it back to him banging on a plastic drum as a baby. His older sister still remembers when he stole her fifth grade percussion equipment and hid it under his bed as a toddler.

However, Mathys only realized the full extent of his passion when he played his first rock show. He was only 8 years old.

“I love shows,” said Mathys, who just turned 13. “ThereâÄôs just a feeling you get up there on stage.”

Mathys is one of nearly 300 area youths able to experience this feeling after enrolling in one of the three Minnesota branches of the School of Rock, a national music education program for students ranging from second grade to high school.

Members of the University of Minnesota Entrepreneurship Club have recently formed a partnership with the school in hopes of giving more young people the opportunity to do what they love, board member Muhammad Abdurrahman said.

He said the E-Team, a group of club members interested in working with local business owners on projects, was looking to make a difference in the community at the start of the fall 2010 semester.

After the owner of the Minnesota School of Rock franchise Stacey Marmolejo spoke at one of the groupâÄôs events, they decided they had found what they were looking for.

“We had a list of things we could do, but this really spoke to us,” Abdurrahman, a College of Liberal Arts graduate student, said. “This particular project seemed like it had a lot of impact. It was something we knew we could really feel good about.”

Marmolejo said when the group contacted her to offer its help last October, one of her initial hopes was for the E-Team to help expand the scholarship fund the school had already established and make it an official nonprofit.

“We would love to see them take complete control of the scholarship program so that we can do what we do for more kids,” Marmolejo said.

A month later, the Youth Music Education Foundation was established.

YMEF President Seth Saeugling said the partnership with the School of Rock is only the first step along the nonprofitâÄôs mission to provide music education scholarships to students across the full range of music programs, particularly after state budget cuts have eliminated music programs in schools across the country.

YMEF members attended the School of RockâÄôs Best of Season Concert in Apple Valley, Minn. on Saturday, seeing the best performances from each concert performed during the programâÄôs season as well as a silent auction to raise money for the scholarship fund, which, Marmolejo said, benefits about 15 percent of the programâÄôs students, covering up to the full price of attending.

The event allowed YMEF members to see where their efforts are going, Saeugling said.

“ItâÄôs great to see how genuinely happy they are on stage,” he said. “We spend so much time in the classroom. ItâÄôs good to see and do something that actually has real-world effects.”

Megan Rousey, the general manager of the St. Paul School of Rock, said University students witnessed the youth in an environment that may mean more to the students than they realize.

“The School of Rock gives these kids something they can shine at,” Rousey said. “At our school, they are rock stars. They may not be that at their regular schools, but we give them that chance here.”

Rousey said sheâÄôs glad to see others become as passionate about the program as she is.

She said she found out about the school on Craigslist after performing with bands across the country for a decade and then landing a full-time corporate job out-of-state.

Rousey, who is originally from Minnesota, said she has found her calling at the School of Rock.

Sandy Mathys, Sam MathysâÄô mother, is equally supportive of the program and the E-TeamâÄôs efforts to provide more opportunity to students like her son.

“We squeak out tuition, but not everybody can,” she said after explaining that her family has made sacrifices to keep Sam enrolled, which costs $4,600 a year, including an instrument. “I would want every kid to have an experience like this whether they have the money or not.”

YMEF set a goal to provide three to five scholarships for the School of Rock this year, Abdurrahman said. He added that in the end, the group is just excited to help young people.

This is feeling that Marmolejo, who brought the programs to Minnesota after witnessing how much music education meant to her own son, shares.

“Every child is an âÄòat riskâÄô child if they donâÄôt find something to be passionate about,” she said. “It doesnâÄôt matter where they came from or what their background is. And that is what we give these kids âÄî something to be passionate about.”

Currently, tickets are on sale for the scholarship fundâÄôs next fundraiser: a showing of a Feb. 15 documentary about the electric guitar.