Compass High School
(CHS) by all appearances looks like any other in Kalamazoo County, Michigan.
However, Principal Jay Birchmeier will tell you the difference lies in the challenges his students face each day outside of school.
Some live in poverty and others are homeless. Also, many struggle with daily attendance or mental health issues.
Regardless, Jay and his staff know that together they must work that much harder to ensure the kids at CHS are prepared for the future.
"Compass High School specializes in educating the 'at risk' student population," he says. "We accept all students."
With this level of commitment, it's no surprise the principal has volunteered to teach guitar after school; something Jay has wanted to do for a number of years.
The only problem is CHS does not have a music program. As a matter of fact, the main focus is for students to earn a diploma, therefore, core classes are offered exclusively without electives.
Kids long to be part of something
Jay recalls students coming to his office and marveling at a guitar hanging on the wall. They would often ask if he would teach them a song or two, but as it’s left-handed and the only one, this proved difficult.
"No better way to connect with kids than through the love of music," he says. "We also know that students who are involved in extracurricular activities perform better in school."
Student Education Coordinator Julie Sorenson believes luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
Julie recognized that learning to play guitar would help students cope with everyday stress as it can be therapeutic. Seizing the moment, she wrote an instrument grant request to the Foundation. It wasn't long before Jay received eight Mitchell
acoustic guitars with all the necessary equipment.
"A huge thanks to The Guitar Center Music Foundation," Julie says. "We saw a need for our students as many of them struggle with depression, trauma and poverty. Music speaks to our souls and helps in ways that are unimaginable."
One such student, Lila, is grateful for the opportunity to pick up the instrument as she has had a passion for music all her life, especially singing.
“I have family members who have been playing for many years and wanted me to try and play," she says. I am so thankful that Mr. Birchmeier has taken his own time to help students like me learn how to play the guitar.”