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TFO goes virtual for free Prodigy violin lessons

The global coronavirus pandemic has not stopped The Florida Orchestra’s free violin classes for kids through its partnership with the University Area CDC’s Prodigy® Cultural Arts Program in Hillsborough County. TFO has taught students through virtual lessons online since mid-March and is continuing to do so for the summer sessions starting in June.

In the past couple of months, TFO has taught about 20 children consistently through group and one-on-one video conference sessions, coordinated through three sites: Roy Haynes Community Center, Thonotosassa Recreation Center and Gardenville Recreation Center. The violins are delivered for free to the students, along with worksheets, books and other supplies. Parents have helped students with the technology, and to keep access equitable, printed worksheets have been delivered to each student, which will continue over the summer.

As the pandemic took hold, TFO Community Engagement Coordinator Michelle Painter and her instructors quickly saw how important the virtual Prodigy® lessons are to the students, who look forward to seeing each other every week.

“That’s important because it speaks to the positive and safe environment these lessons provide, whether in person or virtually,” Painter said. “It’s a tough time right now, and any pocket of community or sense of belonging is so meaningful. I’m proud that our music program is able to provide a little piece of that every week.”

The summer sessions include virtual group classes, buddy lessons, a “field trip” and a masterclass. Since students can’t come to The Florida Orchestra for a field trip, TFO musicians will come to them via a video chat to give a behind-the-scenes tour of how an orchestra works. The two summer sessions are running June 8-July 31 and June 15-Aug. 7, with opportunities for new and returning students.

University Area CDC and Hillsborough County jointly provide funding for the program, which began small in the summer of 2018 to offer lessons and other musical experiences to children who might not have the opportunity any other way. The program has grown steadily with plans to include more sites as health and safety guidelines allow.

Prodigy®, a research proven diversion and prevention program, uses an innovative approach to empower, educate and enable eligible youth, providing a doorway to a better world. Kids ages five to 18 experience performing and visual arts, taught as a tool for self-expression, to learn communication, exploration, problem solving and conflict resolution skills.

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