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Uptown’s Beloved People’s Music School Bringing Free Music Classes To South Side Kids With New Location In Bronzeville’s Classical School

The school will be in Bronzeville for the next three years as it searches for a permanent South Side home.

The People's Music School is planning on sticking around the South Side in order to serve more of Chicago's kids.
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UPTOWN — The People’s Music School, a beloved Uptown institution, is expanding to Bronzeville.

For the next three years, a new People’s Music School location will operate out of the Bronzeville Classical Elementary School, 8 W. Root St. They hope to find a permanent South Side home when their time at the classical school is up.

Since 1976, the People’s Music School has offered free music lessons to Chicago kids. In exchange, parents volunteer hours of their time at the school. But after watching kids commute for hours from the South Side, Executive Director Alli Henry decided it was time to head south.

Since 2016, the school has run a smaller program out of the Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside Ave. Enrollment grew to nearly 80 students, but the kids were cramped and the program and practicing in “closets and hallways,” Henry said.

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For the last three years, students have had to utilize non-traditional music spaces at the Gary Comer Youth Center.

Since the recently-opened Bronzeville Classical School is only serving students up to second grade for now, their entire second floor space is empty, making it a perfect fit for the People’s Music School, Henry said.

Henry said the new location is within walking distance of five South Side schools, and bussing is also available.

“We don’t want to keep hopping around,” she said. “We intend to have a long term presence in the South Side.”

The People’s Music School is still aggressively recruiting new students for the upcoming school year. Henry said they currently have around 850 students but are hoping to have 1000 by 2020, with most of that growth coming from the South Side.

Not only does the move benefit kids, but it also opens up opportunities for South Side families who needed to volunteer with the program to get their kids in. Henry said those with long commutes had to get creative, with things like at-home data entry jobs. Now, parents or students can volunteer at the Bronzeville location. 

With South Side schools being within walking distance of the new location, Henry said she is hopeful students who may not have involved parents can still access the program. 

The People’s Music School has plenty of students who receive parental permission to participate in the after school program, but whose parents may work too often or live too far away in order to be actively involved.

“We do everything we can to make it possible for any student to participate,” she said. “We know the value of having the band family.”

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Students at the People’s Music School have a 100 percent high school graduation rate for the last five years running.

Henry is happy to brag about the success of students who go through the program. For the last five years, 100 percent of students at The People’s Music School graduated from high school. Even more impressive, 100 percent of those students are heading to college. 

“We are so proud of our students who work so hard,” she said. 

The program has students from age 5 to 18 and Henry said she has seen the program change lives for years in Uptown. Now, it’s time for the South Side to have greater access to the power of a music education, she said. 

Currently, the South Side program operates three days a week. But if recruitment goes well and more South Side families are hungry for a music education, Henry said they could expand their programming to five times a week. 

“We want to do what we can to make sure [South Side students] have our community around them.”

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