Every time Valeria Valera reaches for her trombone, the Rickards Middle School 7th grader is reminded of a young man named Alex, someone she never met.
Her trombone case and the instrument itself has “Alex” emblazoned on it.
Alex Schachter was a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when he died in the massacre two years ago. His name is already on 50 donated horns, and now his father is honoring Alex in a new way, by donating online music lessons to low-income communities.
”And this is something we can do that is near and dear to our heart, Alex loved music, he was in the band, and I saw all the great positivity that came out of that,” Max Schachter said.
Schachter’s foundation, Safe Schools for Alex, is contributing $10,000 to the Rickards Middle School band program. It’s enough money to pay for 75 children like Valeria to receive free, online, one-on-one music lessons provided by School of Rock in Boca Raton.
“And I think it’s gonna put a smile on all these kids’ faces when they’re stuck in their house, they’re doing distance learning, they’re not able to see their friends, this is gonna provide that outlet for them,” Schachter said.
“At this moment, this kind of opportunity is needed more than ever,” said Broward Schools superintendent Robert Runcie.
Schachter has been a frequent critic of Runcie on security issues, but the two men are working in harmony on this musical effort.
It’s one thing, they both note, to take academic classes through distance learning, but music students need personal instruction to continue improving and to stay motivated. That’s the value of the online lessons.
"At my house, nobody’s really teaching me so I’m just practicing what I know, and I think it’s good that I’ll learn more,” Valeria said.
“And what we were worried about was that during this time, this coronavirus pandemic, we’re worried that kids are gonna put their instruments down and never pick them up again,” Schachter said.
There’s already been an outpouring of support from the public for this project since it was announced, which means that more kids from more schools can be helped.
”I absolutely encourage our entire community to donate whatever you can to SafeSchoolsforAlex.org so that we can continue to provide this opportunity to more and more students,” Runcie said. “You know many of our students, they come to school because of relationships, clubs, programs, music, the arts, and so this keeps them connected, it keeps them engaged, it keeps their passion going at a time when campuses are closed, at least the music will continue to play on.”
Runcie added that the district invested $19 million in bond money to buy 58,000 new musical instruments, which were distributed to schools all over the county. So kids have the instruments, it’s the personal instruction they’re missing during the pandemic.
Schachter says with more donations, the foundation will expand the program to inner city schools in Miami-Dade and New York. $127 pays for a month of free lessons for a needy child.
Valeria represents just the tip of the iceberg.