Guitar Club Provides Artistic Outlet at Grayson County Post-Adjudication
When Kalyn McAlester began her role as Sherman ISD Fine Arts Coordinator last year, she visited the Grayson County Post-Adjudication facility to meet the art teachers there. SISD provides educational services at the facility, which houses juvenile offenders from across the state.
Immediately, McAlester noticed something curious.
“There was a guitar on a stand in the foyer, so I asked, ‘Who plays?’” McAlester said. “No one did, and there hadn’t been a teacher. They had a closet with four more guitars, too.”
McAlester saw an opportunity in front of her.
“I thought, we need to get these in the hands of the kids,” she said.
And so, Guitar Club was formed. Almost every Friday afternoon, McAlester pulls together the five-member club and teaches the basics, from simple chords to finger placement. As one member graduates from the facility, another student is placed in the club, and the small size allows for more personal tutoring.
“It’s a no-pressure environment,” she said. “I’ve seen kids’ moods calm down and lift up when they’re practicing with the Guitar Club.”
Destry Hawthorne, facility administrator, oversees the group as a member of the staff as well as a fellow learner.
“I tried to pick the kids who were in the middle of the pack, the ones who really don’t stand out one way or another but have shown good behavioral improvement,” Hawthorne said. “I also try to see who really needs something like this.
“I play almost every day now,” Hawthorne added. “If you had told me six or seven months ago that I’d be playing guitar every day, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Amanda Brunson, deputy director of behavioral health at Grayson Post-Adjudication, helps with Guitar Club and plays as well. She said the club helps the students process their feelings as well as develop deeper cognitive skills.
“It’s stretching their minds in ways they’ve likely never been stretched before,” Brunson said. “They’re also gaining confidence from trying something they’ve never tried before and learning a skill they thought they’d never learn.”
Students look forward to Guitar Club, and one, who’s now graduated from the program, even promised to master the guitar and come back to teach Guitar Club someday. Another student was very quiet but observant, but with a bit of coaxing, he came to be a club leader.
“He’d lead us off in the chord progression and would sit by any new students to give them bits of advice,” McAlester said. “He was maybe a little embarrassed about his playing at first, but he blossomed.”
The same student had also been telling McAlester he would save up for a guitar after he graduated. On Sept. 5, he graduated, and McAlester had a surprise for him: his very own Mitchell acoustic-electric guitar.
“I wrote a grant through the Sherman Education Foundation for ten guitars so that each student in Guitar Club could have one to take with them when they graduate,” McAlester said. “If they learn to play guitar but don’t have one at home, it’s a lot harder to practice and take pride in that skill.”
With McAlester and his mother at his side, the former leader of Guitar Club plucked a few strings to make sure his new guitar was tuned, and then he strummed the two chords to an original song composed by McAlester herself, named “Listen.”
“I learned a lot about how music calms and relaxes me,” he said. “I’ll always know I’ve worked hard for this and can look back at this as one of my accomplishments.
“Thank you for teaching me,” he said to McAlester. “You were one of the best teachers and were really awesome.”
They hugged, and as the family left for their truck, the new graduate told his mom he wants to teach his siblings the guitar too.
Below: From left, Amanda Brunson, Destry Hawthorne, the recent Post-Adjudication student who led Guitar Club for a time, his mother, and Kalyn McAlester who celebrated the student’s graduation from the program by gifting him a guitar. Courtesy/SISD, Kalyn McAlester