ANCHORAGE, Alaska—In its five years, the Home Base afterschool program in Fairview has published two books and traveled to Africa.
So what do you do for an encore?
"Oh, it's incredible. I have watched the children grow, since I've been coming here… It's unbelievable what challenges that they have, but what progress they make,” said Smith.
The afternoon starts off with something good to eat and from there, it only gets better.
"When I was growing up, when I was home in my neighborhood, there were lots of people to look after me. That doesn't happen today,” said Home Base Director Shirley Mae Springer-Staten.
But at Home Base, there are lots of caring people. Many of them volunteers, who want to see the next generation get off to a good start.
"I grew up in the sixties, the fifties and sixties and I grew up in Georgia... My life was very different than these students, because our lives were divided by a railroad track. Whites on one side, blacks on the other and so the educational opportunities on my side of the tracks were very limited to reading, writing and arithmetic,” said Springer-Staten. "What we are offering the students here, are those kinds of things that I did not have as a child growing up in the south.”
Many African Americans did not get a chance to play an instrument. That's why Springer-Staten started a string orchestra this fall.
Another reason: She wants children of color to be known for more than basketball, gangs and rap.
"That's exactly why I'm doing it, because the image of African Americans students with the violin or the cello, a bass or viola, that's not the image that we picture,” Springer-Staten said.
But what she pictures won't be easy to accomplish.
For starters, this is a large group of kids. Most of them don't read music and have never played an instrument.
But if anybody can do it, it's Mary Schallert. She teaches orchestra at Aurora Waldorf, a private school where the most of the kids grow up taking lessons, but a lot of these children come from families who can't afford lessons, let alone an instrument.
"Everything in its own time and if we are patient, we will get some great sound. These kids have an amazing sense of time and intonation. They can hear themselves when they're off,” said Schallert.
Most of the instruments used at Home Base were donated. Others were loaned.
"We started out by renting and that became kind of pricey, so I went to our wonderful community of people and it was amazing. Within four days, we had enough violins for every child,” said Schallert.
Schallert recruited student volunteers, who help the children keep their instruments in tune and hold their bows correctly.
Eventually, Schallert will teach the children to read music, but the priority now is to master the mechanics of their instruments and learn the rules of engagement.
Another reason Home Base started the orchestra was to teach discipline and teamwork. Then there's the power of the music itself.
With back up from the student volunteers, the children play by ear. By instinct, their fingers find the notes.
"When they pick the instrument up and begin to make sound, they see the possibility of what they can do with their instrument and for me that transfers to their lives” said Springer-Staten. "Then they can see, if this is possible, if I can learn to play this viola, then whatever my dreams are, they are possible too.”
The hope is that by the time these kids go to high school, that they'll be ready to audition for orchestra and turn the stereotypes on their head.
The Home Base program serves children from fourth through eighth grade. Its goal is to reel kids in early so they'll get hooked on success and graduate from high school.