The Follow Your Heart Arts Program is built upon a set of core beliefs that form our philosophy. We believe that music education has value far beyond the specific skills taught to students.
Studies have shown that young people who participate in music education test higher in math and science. Our group lessons and activities are also designed to build students' communication skills and provide them with a sense of self confidence. Our number one priority is not to cultivate a classroom full of musical prodigies so much as it is to expose young people to a broader worldview and equip them with the tools necessary to navigate new horizons.
One of the key elements of our program is how we recruit our teaching staff. Thanks to the Delta Music Institute at Delta State University, we are able to hire teachers who are obtaining their own college degrees in music education. Follow Your Heart teachers earn college credit and gain real world experience through our program. Therefore, everyone involved in the program, from the most experienced teacher to the least experienced student, is learning something new.
We have also expanded our teacher roster to include former Follow Your Heart students. While these student teachers continue to advance their own knowledge of the instrument, they are learning the value of giving back to one’s community. Thanks to our partners at the Grenada School District, local churches, and the Grammy Museum in Cleveland, Mississippi, there is no shortage of resources available to help our student teachers continue their musical journey in a safe environment.
Our local partners also provide us an opportunity to build upon our belief that education is at its best when it is community-driven. Because local schools, churches, and museums provide our classrooms, students find themselves cared for by familiar faces from their own neighborhoods. We are proud of the diversity in our classrooms, and we believe that this kind of collaboration across racial lines is a key component of improving race relations in our region.
The local infrastructure of our program is a primary reason why we include advocacy in our curriculum. Each year, select Follow Your Heart Arts Program students travel to the nation’s capital to lobby their state representatives for support of music education initiatives. For most of our students, these trips to Washington, D.C., mark their first journey outside the state as well as their first opportunity to engage in civic action with government leaders.
Another reason for our advocacy outreach is Mississippi’s rich musical heritage. From the blues to country music to gospel and rock and roll, Mississippi is the birthplace of American music. For young people growing up in the poorest state in the union, it is important to show them just how many legends grew up around them. We think of it as power of place. Every year, Follow Your Heart students take a field trip to several historic landmarks of Mississippi music history, including the legendary Dockery Farms, where blues legends Charley Patton, “Son” House, Pops Staples, Robert Johnson, and Howlin’ Wolf all developed their sound and style. As we lobby for the protection of these priceless landmarks, we are also ensuring that future generations pass down the knowledge of their significance.
In a rural state like Mississippi, music education is not as widely available as most sports programs, leaving few extracurricular options for children who don’t make the team. The Follow Your Heart Arts Program was founded with the mission to change this fact. However, we believe that our program is incomplete unless it can provide students with a realistic opportunity to pursue something they love. That is why we provide our students with a tour of Delta State University. For many of our students, this is their first chance to set foot on a college campus.
Most of our students will not go on to become the next Elvis, but the music industry boasts thousands of jobs, most of which don’t exist in the spotlight. For every pop superstar, there are backing musicians, dancers, choreographers, stylists, engineers, producers, lighting technicians, managers, accountants, attorneys, publishers, songwriters, truck drivers, publicists, and more. We talk about these career options with our students, so that they might find a way to connect their future job with something they love. We believe that making this connection helps young people to better follow through with a plan for higher education and success.
Education, Team Building, Community, Heritage, Advocacy, Career Outlook - these are the pillars of the Follow Your Heart Arts Program. As we continue to grow and evolve, these are the principles that guide us. We are committed to our partners and to our region as well as to our students and teachers, and we believe that over time the impact of our program will change the very landscape, not just of music education in rural Mississippi, but in the very trajectory of the young people who call Mississippi home.
On our trips to Washington DC, Follow Your Heart students and teachers meet with their elected representatives in the US Capitol, visit the offices of NPR and the National Endowment for the Arts, and experience some of the sites and sounds of our nation's capital.