SHARPening Skills: School of Music students volunteer with after-school music program

This blog post is by Emily Schweich, junior broadcast journalism major.


Photo by Robert DiLutis

Once a week, University of Maryland School of Music students visit William Wirt Middle School in Riverdale. But these visits aren’t required for class.

“Students become better students when they’re involved in the arts, and that’s been proven time and time again.”

Five graduate students volunteer to teach free private lessons through the SHARP program, launched last fall by School of Music Clarinet Professor Robert DiLutis, ArtsSi Riverdale’s Dwayne Fields-Kuehl, and William Wirt Band Director Randolph Barnes. SHARP, which stands for “Students Harnessing Academic Readiness through Performance,” seeks to improve students’ holistic academic performance through arts education.

“Students become better students when they’re involved in the arts, and that’s been proven time and time again,” DiLutis said.

DiLutis modeled the program on a five dollar lesson program he launched while teaching at Louisiana State University. Currently, University of Maryland students teach 10 William Wirt students, but he said he hopes to expand the program to include other schools.

He said the program has helped not only the William Wirt students but the University of Maryland students as well.

“Our students, who are volunteering to teach, are gaining teaching experience, but…they’ve gotten more out of it than they’ve thought,” DiLutis said. “They’re seeing what the real world’s like. They’re seeing a school that doesn’t have very much funding and how you have to be creative to make things happen, how students can’t always afford the books, how difficult it is for students to show up . . . . This is a good experience for learning something now before you get out in the real world. Sometimes it makes you more forgiving of the things that people don’t have.”

Susanna Johnson, a first-year master’s student in viola performance, said she enjoys teaching students who wouldn’t otherwise have this opportunity. She said she feels like their lessons encourage the students to work harder.

“I like that these kids realize that they’re getting something…that they wouldn’t normally get, so they try to take advantage of that,” Johnson said.

To Joseph Beverly, a first-year master’s student in clarinet performance, SHARPs provides an opportunity to teach students about more than music.

“I’ve really, really enjoyed it, and I feel like the students are really growing and learning a lot musically, but I also feel like I’m trying to teach them about real life as well,” Beverly said. “We can get these kids to believe they can do something with music if they want to.”