Students bring music tutoring to teens


Math and chemistry typically provide the most business for student tutors. But on the extracurricular side of things, UI freshman Amanda Rethwisch is teaching young, aspiring musicians learn to play their instruments — for free.

The program offers one-on-one and small group instruction for elementary and junior-high students as a supplement to their school rehearsals. In most cases, their families cannot afford private lessons.

Rethwisch began mentoring fifth- and sixth-graders in violin last winter; she has played for 12 years. Once a student herself in the elementary orchestra, she said she enjoyed the role reversal.

“Being the teacher instead of the student was really cool because I got to take all of the lessons I’ve learned and actually pass them on to somebody else,” she said.

Rethwisch heard about the program from her orchestra instructor, Candace Wiebener, who is also the program’s coordinator. Weibener worked with Jacki Brennan, the executive director of the Iowa City School District Foundation, and Linda Paul, who with her husband, Doug Paul, helped create the program — which pays its mentors — through a donation.

“The idea came about as not only a way to give the younger kids lessons but also to offer some great mentoring experience to the high-school music students,” Brennan said.

There was a decided need in the district for such a project, and the School District Foundation fundraising campaign served as an opportunity to obtain funding and support for the idea, Linda Paul said.

In the 2008-09 school year, the project cost a little more than $2,000, which was paid for completely by the donation. The gifts will likely cover expenses for a few more years, though costs are likely to increase as more schools on the West Side of town begin to incorporate the program.

Lessons usually take place after classes at the younger students’ school, but sometimes Rethwisch and mentors help the kids at their group orchestra rehearsals.

Learning to be teachers wasn’t always easy. On her first day of orchestra practice, Rethwisch had a minor tuning fiasco. She accidentally broke a student’s viola strings, mistaking it for the violins in the rest of the row.

“I think I broke his heart,” she said.

Fortunately, a more experienced teacher on hand was able to repair the broken string in time for the concert that night.

But snafus aside, Linda Paul said mentors have sent e-mails detailing how rewarding the program was for them. Some said the experience reinforced their own love for music; one or two have seriously considered majoring in music in college.

“As everyone knows, when you have to teach something, then you learn more,” she said. “So they all felt that this had added to their own musical knowledge and ability to play.”

Rethwisch said her favorite aspect of the program were the bonds she formed with the students she mentored.

“We were really able to make improvements in their playing,” she said. “It”s fun to see that you can really make a difference for someone.”

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