Allendale LINC students find their rhythm
Almost everyone enjoys the timeless pleasure of banging a drum. But for the students attending Allendale LINC School in Woodstock, drumming is more than random fun. Turns out, learning how to play steelpan drums in a structured group environment offers tangible benefits that are particularly beneficial to struggling youth.
Allendale Association is a not-for-profit organization that has been caring for children in crisis for 120 years. Its LINC day school in Woodstock provides educational, vocational and therapeutic services to students age 8-21 from McHenry, Kane, Winnebago and Boone counties. Allendale's primary residential facility in Lake Villa provides residential care and specialized educational services to hundreds of Illinois children.
According to LINC principal Lorine Schaar, the school is always seeking new opportunities for kids to interact with the local community in mutually beneficial ways. (After all, LINC stands for "Learning Increases through Networking in the Community.") The drumming program was made possible as a result of a grant made by Mental Health Resource League for McHenry County, which has generously supported LINC for a number of years.
"MHRL's grant allowed us to partner with one of our neighbors, Potts & Pans, Inc. NFP, which happens to be Chicagoland's largest steelpan drum organization," Schaar said. "Their small group instruction is ideal for our students."
The class is taught by Anthony Jay Houston and Matt Potts, two of Potts and Pans' directors for culture, arts and music.
"Drumming is one of the oldest forms of music," Houston said. "It's natural and accessible to everyone, regardless of musical experience. It can be relaxing, and it engages the whole brain and body. And as a team-based activity, it also provides a sense of structure."
The steelpan drum is a Caribbean instrument. Originating in Trinidad and Tobago, the first steelpans were made from actual 55-gallon oil drums.
In class, students begin by focusing on African hand drumming. Once they gain a basic understanding of groove and rhythm, they graduate to more complex melodic steelpan drumming. They learned by rote (no reading music required), in the Caribbean tradition.
The impact on students has been dramatic.
"We've absolutely seen positive changes," Houston said. "Kids that came to us quiet and shy opened up. They'd play and discuss music openly during classes."
While many Allendale students struggle to stay focused in traditional academic settings, they're highly engaged while drumming. Because each student plays a specific role in the ensemble, it builds a sense of responsibility, purpose and pride. It's also a great form of self-expression.
In addition, one LINC student works at Potts & Pans part-time, helping out with facility maintenance. Allendale seeks vocational opportunities for students in the business community.
"I see such a difference in the kids when they're drumming," said Deb Novak, an Allendale teaching assistant who accompanies the students to Potts & Pans. "They're stepping out of their comfort zones. They're laughing. There's a brightness about them."
And so, kids who have too often marched to a different drum are finding beauty in their own unique beat.