When Caitlin Schmidt became director of the J.L. Long Middle School band eight years ago, the program had about 75 students. Today, that number is well over 350.
In just her second year teaching at Long, the energetic director launched a recruiting campaign to garner interest in the program. She sent students to play at elementary schools and passed out extra band apparel to the student body. But the greatest recruiting tool is creating a place where students feel they belong, she says.
“It’s mainly about building relationships with kids,” Schmidt says. “How can I get on their level and make them feel like I understand where they’re coming from? It’s about developing the kids into good humans, not this phenomenal band. If they’re good kids, the other will happen naturally.”
As the program grew, so did the needs. The band moved classrooms three times in four years to accommodate growing numbers. Not only are there not enough instruments, there aren’t enough high- quality instruments.
“Even if I could put an instrument in every kid’s hand, it doesn’t work half the time,” Schmidt says.
Schmidt discovered DonorsChoose, a website that allows teachers to request classroom items that can be purchased by community donors. Since posting her first project in 2013, donors have contributed more than $200,000 that has been used to buy instruments and send students on field trips.
Numerous teachers have benefited from her efforts. In February, Sonic helped fund DonorsChoose projects across the country by matching community donations. Schmidt had two projects at the time that didn’t get funded. A few weeks later, a Sonic representative contacted her, asking for more information about the projects.
The representative was so moved by the conversation that the company paid for all active projects at J.L. Long and contributed $100 gift cards to all live projects in Dallas ISD. Sonic also gifted Schmidt with $5,000 that she planned on using as travel scholarships to send kids to Disney World in May.
“If you didn’t like Sonic before, you should like them now,” Schmidt says.
The arts department trip to Disney World, in which students were slated to participate in workshops with performers, was canceled because of the coronavirus, and the scholarship money was earmarked for future trips.