Available to students 6th grade through high school

A unique and highly-treasured after school program for 6th graders at Sunrise Elementary School is about to lose its space due to swelling enrollment. For 25 years, Sunrise Elementary has had one of the largest and most valued elementary school steel band programs in the United States, involving up to 36 6th graders each spring.

The parents, administration, and the director of the program have decided the best way to keep it alive is to centralize it (find a neutral location) and open the program up to all kids in the district, from 6th grade all the way through high school.

The director of the Sunrise Elementary School Steelbands for the past five years is internationally-known steel pan artist and composer Gary Gibson, who agreed to take over the program five years ago after his friend, the founder of the group, Michael Bento, took a different teaching role in another district. The school fields two 18-piece 6th grade bands each spring.

Gary Gibson

“The new program will be more like what I have seen in various other parts of the country in my travels as performer and clinician/adjudicator,” says Gibson, who makes several trips a year to work with groups across the United States. He has visited more than 200 such programs, and recently founded a non-profit organization in his home community (Edmonds) to provide this to youth in that district. The Kent program would mirror the Edmonds program, using the instruments owned by Sunrise Elementary.

“When I travel, it is usually to go work with a group of talented young steelband people,” says Gibson. “In contrast to the way the steelband is treated in the Puget Sound region, those organizations have figured out how to offer this starting at 5th or 6th grade and let the kids keep doing it, so they have a chance to get good at it. And the results of that continuity – artistically, educationally, and socially – can be stunning.” He adds that the most common level of groups he visits are high schools and colleges.

Gibson’s non-profit organization, Steel Magic Northwest, enjoys a close symbiotic relationship with the Edmonds School District, providing the steelband classes for its summer music camp, and offering school assemblies and other presentations. “We provide the youth in the district something that the district itself is not able to provide, and we enhance the area’s arts education opportunities,” Gibson notes. “This is basically a youth development program wrapped up in the activity of playing in a steelband.”

Currently, a group of parents of former Sunrise Elementary School steelband kids is organizing to get the word out and find other youth from the district who want to participate. Rehearsals will be twice weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. The group is still looking for a location, such as renting space at a church, or other light commercial space. The group is also anticipating needing some start-up donations in order to subsidize the program initially if the enrollment is too low to be self-sustaining.

Gibson, who wrote over $100,000 worth of grants for his non-profit’s Edmonds program, notes that there is not enough time to write a grant to subsidize the Kent program in time to start it up in September; it will have to rely on tuition and tax-deductible donations in order to keep the tuition low and provide tuition assistance to those families who need it.

“I’m the son of two social workers,” Gibson says, ” and I don’t want financial challenges coming between this opportunity and any child who wants to participate in it.”

Parents of interested youth should contact Mr. Gibson via email at [email protected] by July 31st. The parents have started a Facebook page also (Steel Magic Northwest / Kent-Sunrise Organizing Group), and the main Steel Magic Northwest website is www.steelmagicnorthwest.org.

[Source: Gary Gibson, Executive and Artistic Director, Steel Magic Northwest]