In Irvin Kalugdan’s music therapy classroom at Mount Vernon High School, students with emotional disabilities engage in DJ turntable battles. They play on electronic drum sets, strum guitars and learn how to express themselves through music.
Thanks to a grant from the Grammy Foundation, the students will be able to make recordings of their work.
Mount Vernon was one of 12 public schools in the country to receive grants from the Grammy Foundation, the charitable arm of the music awards organization, for 2014 to promote music education.
Kalugdan’s work earned the school a $5,500 grant through the Grammy Signature Schools Enterprise awards for “economically underserved schools,” according to the foundation. Mount Vernon High School serves a diverse population in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, and more than half of the school’s students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, a federal measure of poverty.
“I’m very proud of the music teachers in my school because they are very innovative in their thinking, and this grant is going to assist our students,” said Mount Vernon Principal Nardos King. “We wouldn’t probably be able to do this for our students without the extra funding.”
King said the grant will help Kalugdan establish a record label at the school. The money will help purchase new technology for Kalugdan’s classroom, where the school now will be able to capture the teenagers’ music.
When students first walk into Kalugdan’s classroom, they don’t know how to play a musical instrument, King said. “They leave playing guitar or piano,” she said. “It’s really phenomenal work.”
Kalugdan said the grant will help his students, some of whom struggle with emotional disabilities including depression.
Participating in school events as DJs helps his students learn to be comfortable in big crowds.
“It helps them feel a part of the school and feel school spirit and school pride,” said Kalugdan, who has taught in Fairfax for 18 years.
Music, he said, helps “bring them out of their shell and allow them to express themselves.”
Others receiving Grammy Foundation awards include schools in California, Nevada, Oregon, Wisconsin, Missouri and Arizona. Mount Vernon is the only school recognized in the Washington area. The most recent school from Fairfax to receive a Grammy grant was Chantilly High School, in 1999.