Dick & Jane Start a Non-Profit
By Mark J. Lucas
It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.
– Pablo Picasso
An indie-folk rocker plays blues riffs into his harmonica while children dance around him enthusiastically – but this isn’t a party. This is a classroom.
In a world where media bombards the public day and night with sound bytes and video clips, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get kids to pay attention and enjoy learning. Local non-profiteer Ben Shinabery has found a way to grab young students’ attention in a creative way.
His brainchild, the Dick & Jane Project, is a non-profit that pairs public school kids with live local musicians to create songs based on the children’s lyrics. Taking their work seriously gives these prodigies confidence, while at the same time presenting a creative challenge to the musicians involved. All in all, it’s a win-win for everyone.
“I wanted to take a few years to explore the different realms of education,” explained Shinabery, who holds a bachelor’s degree in human development and a minor in education from OSU. “I noticed that kids were most passionate about music and they wanted to talk about it. What I quickly found out, with all the songs they were listening to, was that I couldn’t really talk about ‘riding dirty in the club.’ Usually what teachers have to do is close the door, because they’re risking their jobs. The best way to reach them was to do the one thing teachers couldn’t do.”
After taking home a pile of children’s books, he came upon Read With Dick & Jane, which, as Shinabery recalled, isn’t exactly a compelling read for kids. But when the text was put to music, it had something to it. He also grabbed a student-written poem out of a shoebox and put that to music, performing the songs at the Tuesday night open mic at Taj Mahal. It was there that the tunes piqued the curiosity of indie-folker Andy Gallagher and his band Trains Across the Sea. An idea began to form: pairing kids with musicians in a serious way to get them interested.
“As we get to know them and their writing, they end up being part of the band,” said Shinabery. “We’re not treating them as kids. We treat them as we would any other artist. The goal is to give them confidence.”
In addition to being a confidence booster to the kids, the collaboration helps hit the reset button for the artists who work with them.
“All the musicians who have done work with us have put in six or seven hours per song arranging it and putting it all down,” said Shinabery. “They all say how good of an exercise it is for them to go through the whole project, and it gives them a little break. A lot of bands focus a lot on lyrics and since they don’t have to write them, they have time to focus on the musical side.”
The Dick & Jane Project has recently been granted 501(c) 3 status and can now receive grant money. With those funds, Shinabery hopes to increase the quality of the recordings and create an initiative to get more schools involved. Several recordings from the project have been posted to their website, and people are already seeing the benefit of a child’s unique perspective.
“My hope is to put out really high quality projects and maybe some music videos,” explained Shinabery. “Kids are geared for high quality. To really be effective, that’s what we have to go for, and give them what they deserve.”
For more information about the Dick & Jane Project, visit thedickandjaneproject.org.