Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Gift of Drew

Jenny is a brilliant teacher. Beloved. She has a sterling reputation in the county. Her soprano high notes are clear and sweet. A few years back she directed Godspell and gave so many of us the opportunity to grow and shine. She sings with Seattle Pro Musica - an elegant, classical choir that surely causes the angels to applaud. 

Jenny makes Italian food infused with goodness and love. She crams 38 hours into a regular day. If you want something done, call her - it will be a glorious success. Her passion, intelligence, playfulness and generous heart have dripped on all of us. We are blessed to call her friend. I do not think she will fully know the influence she has had on these children, or us - at least in this life.

The ripples go out forever.

I asked her to retell this story. It moved me greatly when I saw the pictures last week. Thanks Jenny. 

I’ve had the pleasure of teaching thousands of children in my 21 years.  I don’t think there is a type of student that I haven’t taught.  Each child is special and unique in their own way.  I have enjoyed learning how to make these children into musicians - some easier than others - some not so easy, but worth all of the effort.  I’ve loved them all, even the ones that thought I hated them because I was too hard on them.  They have all inspired me through my career to learn to be a better, more understanding and caring teacher. Sometimes, my strong, passionate personality is not well-received. 

Lately, a present student of mine has had a lot of attention due to some pictures I posted on Facebook.  I’d love to tell you about Drew – probably one of the most unique children I’ve ever taught. 

Drew is a 10-year old student at my school.  I’ve taught him since he was a little first grader.  To me, Drew has always been a puzzle that I haven’t been able to solve.  He comes across as very emotional and at times secluded little boy.  Many times, it seems as if he’s not paying a single bit of attention in class.  There have been many times over the years where Drew has gotten in trouble in my class for not paying attention, social issues, personal space issues and not following directions.  There have been many times when Drew has cried, been extremely sensitive and dramatic.  He goes in cycles. Over the years, I’ve come to know the times of year when he is going into his more difficult modes.

According to Drew’s mother, he was an almost silent baby.  He never spoke until he was nearly 2, when he looked at a women’s room sign and spelled out the word “W-O-M-E-N.”  He also attended pre-school for 3 years because of his silence. 

1st and 2nd grade were tough for Drew – not academically, but socially and maturity-wise.  I think many people have tried to put a label on Drew.  His mother said that he’s been labeled “Autistic” by a doctor.  I think many of us have drawn up a “diagnosis” where Drew is concerned.  He is truly unique.  But Drew’s mother refuses to attach a label to her son and let’s Drew be Drew.  She does recognizes that he is different and has made some “unpopular” decisions where her son is concerned. 

Drew has been in the Highly Capable program at our school.  In second grade, he had a teacher with whom he worked well.  Drew’s mother decided to keep him in that class for 3rd grade, as well.  She thought that this would be best for his maturity.  This did not mean him repeating second grade, however.  Instead, Drew worked independently on a 3rd grade curriculum in his 2nd grade class.  Because of his brilliance, he also attended 5th grade math classes with a teacher who had a particular interest in Drew. 

Drew is a genius.  On his ITBS tests, he scored a perfect score.  All of his teachers have said that he is the smartest kid they have ever taught.  I think we expect so much out of him because of his brilliance.  We expect a certain maturity level to be associated with someone this intelligent.  He is very articulate, well-read and at times…..ok….most of the time, is quite “puffed up” when it comes to his intelligence level. 

Drew’s mother decided to have him skip 4th grade this year.  People found this to be odd since she chose to hold him back maturity-wise the year before.  We all questioned how Drew would be able to handle a 5th grade environment.  How would the kids react to him?  Would he still cry at the drop of a hat?  Would he be able to handle the curriculum?  Ok...none of us really questioned this…..but I did when it came to music.  For me, this meant that Drew would skip two years of music.  How would he be able to keep up with kids that have been reading music more fluently than he was being asked to in his 2nd grade music class? 

I started a violin program this year.  I don’t play the violin, but wanted to put a higher level instrument in my students’ hands than a plastic recorder.  Drew was particularly taken with the violin.  There were days in the beginning when he would cry - because he would make a mistake. There were days when the class would be independently practicing what I asked them to practice and Drew would be done with that and go on to his own activity.  One time, he called me over and said “Hey Mrs. Price, I think I’ve figured out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”  And of course, he had.  I knew Drew was enjoying the challenge of the violin, but I guess I never realized how much until 2 weeks ago. 

I had 30 students play their new violins for the board of education.  I tried to pick a variety of kids for this presentation.  Drew was in this group. I think he liked the challenge of being with kids who were picking up on the violin like he was.  I prepared the kids for that performance that afternoon and then had them back that evening to play. 

The kids did a fantastic presentation.  I was so proud of them.  They showed the audience and the board so much…so much of what is good in children, what is good in school and what is good within the human spirit.  They were so poised, proud and so sure of themselves-at least it appeared so. 

At the end of the presentation, I asked the audience to ask the kids questions.  Our superintendant asked the kids “What is it that you love the most about playing the violin?”  Most kids gave great answers…but no child gave a more passionate and heart-felt answer as Drew.  Drew said “Well…’s just so much fun..and I love it so much and I look forward to playing it so much…and I just wish I had a violin of my very own.”  The audience smiled and sweetly moaned a happy moan at how sweet this little boy was.  I too, was charmed by the young Drew.  But I also giggled at his somewhat “over the top” dramatic tone….one that at times made me wonder could this kid be for real?

 Later that week, I found out how “real” Drew was where the violin was concerned. 

The next morning, a staff member who attended the board meeting emailed me and asked “Jenny, who was the little boy on the end?”  I told her who it was.  She asked “Does he really want a violin?”  I answered back, “I believe he would love one.”  She asked “How much does a violin cost?”  When I told her that a case, shoulder rest, bow and violin cost about $200.00, she wrote back and said “Tell me more about Drew.”  

I told her about him.  Her email back said “Boy, can I pick ‘em or what!!?!!  Yes, I’ll get him a violin.”  I was shocked.  I didn't expected that kind of response from that performance.  I never expected Drew’s answer to have the kind of reaction that would compel a person be moved enough to buy a violin for a student.  

Throughout this meeting, all I could think about besides my kids performing well, was that I needed to sell myself to the board.  To sell music.  To show them how important music is to these kids so they wouldn’t dare consider cutting our music program at such hard economic times.  

Little did I know that one of the reasons for that performance was so a little boy could be given a gift -and a benefactor could give of her heart - to make the difference in the life of a child she didn’t even know.  

I learned a lot from that meeting!

I called Drew’s mom and spoke to her of this generous gift.  She was so excited.  I could hear the tears in her voice.  She shared with me a story about her older son who had just gotten a bunch of hockey equipment from Craig’s List.  Mom had also been looking online for a violin for Drew, but was having no luck. 

Drew sadly said to his mother, “Isn’t there just a little bit of extra money for me so that I can have a violin?”  When she told me this, my eyes filled with tears. 

I called Drew down to my room to tell him of the generosity that was being shown to him.  He was in shock….cried……excited……..  We discussed being gracious and not sharing the story with everyone, so that other kids didn’t feel slighted.  He understood. 

Drew’s violin showed up this Wednesday.  I called Drew out of class and had him come to the office.  I pulled Drew’s violin out of the box and unwrapped his precious gift for him.  As he walked into the office, he burst into tears.  The office staff and I watched this young boy hold his greatest treasure –  his first violin.  

He sobbed as we cried along with him.  Drew hugged his violin saying thank you over and over as big crocodile tears fell from his eyes.  I could barely hold my camera still as I tried to take pictures of him.  I hoped that the camera would capture what my eyes had just witnessed.  What a beautiful moment Drew gave me.  

For once, I didn’t put up my hand and tell Drew to “turn off the water works – it’s not going to work.” Instead, I let him cry all that he needed to cry. 

The secretaries asked Drew to play a song for them.  Since Drew is a beginner, he needed tape marks on his fingerboard so his hand could be in first position.  I wondered if he could handle finding those pitches without the tape being there.  Why I even questioned his sense of pitch, I do not know…but I was fascinated at how his little fingers adjusted the pitch when he was slightly out of tune - a proud moment for his extremely pitch-sensitive teacher. 

My violin assistant – a community member who is a string player and helps me teach violin - took Drew aside the next day and told him that she would give him lessons if he promised to practice.  Something tells me, Drew will do nothing else. 

This Friday he took his violin home.  I wonder how big his calluses are on his fingers! I will probably hear all about it on Tuesday when I see him again. 

I have learned so many things from this experience.  I’ve learned what it is like to work with a young, sensitive boy who takes pleasure in the simple joy of loving music. What a beautiful thing. I’ve learned about being a benefactor to a complete stranger and what a gift that can be.  I’ve learned to be a better and more understanding teacher.  I’ve learned that I never quite know what it is that I will teach, that will reach even the most unique and challenging students.  Maybe it took me taking on a violin that could reach someone like Drew.  In any case, I’m glad I took that step…because in the end, it made the difference in the life of a child. 

Thank you for that lesson and for this experience, Drew.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget you over the years.  And maybe someday, when you are in some major symphony, you will think back to the day you received your first violin and will share the story with someone else.  


  1. Kathleen -- what a loving, inspiring story. Truly beautiful.

  2. This story reiterates how important teachers can be in the life of a child!! What a wonderful, inspirational story - it makes me proud to be a teacher, helps me see that what we do, does matter!!!

  3. Such a beautiful story that Drew, too, will carry in his heart.

    Perhaps we'll hear one day that he'll be playing at Carnegie Hall.

  4. had trouble reading it in the end... had to get the crocodile tears out. :)

  5. This is a great story! Teachers, and coaches can have such an amazing influence on our children...

  6. So sweet!! I love stories like this...thank you for sharing it with us!

  7. a beautiful moment.
    maybe someday, drew will give a violin to another small child.

  8. the power of love and commitment ...

  9. This story needs to be shared with school boards everywhere considering more cuts to arts programs. And maybe it should be shared with the National Endowment for the Arts.
    Art has the power to change lives, both for the performers and the audience.

  10. Read this first at the Everett Herald and there was a link to this blog. I am thankful I read both, thankful I 'met' this amazing child, who is Drew. I too, am dealing with the tears and I too, believe Drew and that violin are headed to bigger and better places. Planting a bug in someone's ear: Drew's story needs to be written into a book and shared!!!

  11. wow that was inspiring!

  12. wow he is in my 5th grade class and this is a new side of drew

  13. This is a really beautiful story! I have a nephew the same age as Drew who has been diagnosed as having Asbergers. He was given a cello by my father, about 18 mos. ago, and was so excited; he is now excelling at it! It is amazing to see the devotion and gratitude in one so young. Thank goodness for teachers like you, who give of themselves, every day, to help students achieve their full potential. I would not be surprised if Drew and my nephew end up playing in the same orchestra some day! I have a soft spot in my heart for children who are quirky because they see things so differently and challenge our preconceptions of 'the right way' or 'the only way' to do something. I hope to be a teacher who sees beyond the outbursts or unusual behaviour into the heart of the child. I know I will be the one who learns valuable lessons from the children I have the privilege to teach.


A comment, reply, idea, dialogue or conversation with you means so much. Thanks for the two way street thing.