school of rock
Attendance Records brings creativity back to public schools (with help fromMother Falcon and The Sour Notes)
The 2011-12 school year marks the end of the TAKS test and the launch of STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness), a mandatory assessment ranking students on reading and math skills. As teachers scramble to center lesson plans around test prep, truly creative curriculum is becoming harder to find in public school classrooms.
Enter Attendance Records, a new nonprofit that promotes writing skills and encourages creativity. Don’t let the name fool you—it’s not just a record label. Following custom curriculum, program founder Jenna Carrens (along with a team of volunteers, including local bands Mother Falcon and The Sour Notes) will spend six weeks providing in-class workshops to Anderson High students, focusing on songwriting and guiding the group through the process of creating and releasing their very own album.
“I did a similar project, kind of like a guinea pig project, through the Austin Bat Cave,” explains Carrens. A veteran tutor and former Program Coordinator at literacy organization ABC, she implemented the project that eventually became I Have A Mane, a compilation of local artists bringing student writing to lyrical life. “A lot of the bands that did it last year, they liked the songs so much they’re putting them on their own album,” she notes excitedly.
Attendance Records is based on the same basic premise—that writing is more fun when students can create their own material—but focuses specifically on songwriting, and the behind-the-scenes work that goes into translating stories to lyrics.
[Attendance Records] will spend six weeks providing in-class workshops to Anderson High students, focusing on songwriting and guiding the group through the process of creating and releasing their very own album.
“I’m going to bring in some local writers and artists,” says Carrens of the project’s structure. “Mother Falcon and The Sour Notes are doing this first album, and they’re actually going to help with the songwriting. But the kids are doing all the work. They are going to be writing, producing and designing the entire six-song album, which will be released on CD and vinyl. All the kids will be included; someone will design the cover, maybe someone writes a poem and it goes in and, of course, the kids will write the songs that go on the album.”
The Anderson High students who will be compiling Attendance Records’ first official release couldn’t be more excited (in fact, a few even go on record at the nonprofit’s fundraising page to tell you exactly how excited they are).
It’s hard not to be psyched about a fun activity that’s both engaging and a welcome distraction from more textbook-heavy lectures.
“With so many arts programs being cut, this is a way to provide an opportunity for kids to express themselves and learn not about one specific thing, but about the arts in general,” Carrens says. “Basically, I love teaching, I love mentoring, I love being able to spread some ideas that kids might not have known about before.”
This first album will mark the growth of Austin’s creative education community, but it’s just the beginning of Attendance Records’ big plans.
“I want to reach as many kids as possible,” says Carrens. “Right now I’m going to be serving 31 with this first project, and hopefully, when the organization gets bigger, we can expand to more schools.”
They nonprofit is on the right path—they’ve already got a Board of Directors in place, which includes former teacher Katie Payne, business advisor Kenton Yaklin and recording engineer John Michael Landon (whose studio, Premium Recording, is helping out with the technical side of things).
As Attendance Records enters its first semester, they’re still in the initial fundraising process, with over 60 days left on their IndieGoGo campaign. For an effort that will produce an entire album from scratch, there are a lot of expenses, but Carrens is trying to keep her budget low.
“This first project, I’m doing everything very cheap and there’s so many people helping out; the initial fundraising will cover all the classroom supplies, the printing costs, any recording costs, the venue, the merch—that’s pretty much what we’ll need to make it happen.”
In addition, Carrens plans on celebrating this first forthcoming album with a benefit show shortly after New Years, featuring plenty of local bands and, hopefully, appearances from some of the students whose work they’ll be playing.
“I want the volunteers, the musicians, everyone to learn from each other instead of us just standing up there talking to kids about music or writing or art. We’re all kind of learning from the process of it.”
Though she’s still two weeks away from her first in-class session, Carrens is already dreaming up new ideas.
“In the future, I’m hoping I can get some recording equipment donated that I can bring into the classroom, so kids can learn about that too,” she says.