Laine Decker credits a grant and scholarship program offered by the Miller Foundation with the opportunity to audition for a place as a violinist with the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra.
Laine, 17, a junior at Lakeview High School, is one of more than 20,000 students from Battle Creek area schools who have benefited from BCreative, an arts-focused grants and scholarships program funded by the Miller Foundation. In the 10 years since its inception, more than $1 million has been awarded to students and schools, says Sara Wallace, president and CEO of the Miller Foundation.
“To date, we have offered scholarships to 1,972 students and awarded 172 grants for field trips,” says Wallace.
Laine, who began playing the violin with a school orchestra in Grade 6, received her first $800 scholarship in 2018 to attend the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. This scholarship covered half of the cost of attending Blue Lake. She has continued to receive these scholarships every year since and has used other sources of funding, including those from her parents, to make up the difference.
Without these scholarships, she says, “I wouldn’t have been able to go. The scholarships allowed me to go to these camps. It’s been such a blessing and I’ve really been able to grow with my instrument. I grew up in different ways. I gained much more self-confidence thanks to my instrument and this allowed me to continue to grow.
Laine Decker, a junior at Lakeview High School, wants to pursue a career in music therapy. She is the newest member of the Kalamazoo Junior Symphony Orchestra and has been playing the violin since grade 6.Being at Blue Lake, she says, also allowed her to make friends with young people from the Midwest who attend the musical arts camp and gave her the confidence to become a leader in the orchestra of his high school.
“It gave me the tools to grow and help others,” says Laine, who would like to pursue a career in music therapy.
Wallace says providing access to these experiences and opportunities for local youth is one of the reasons BCreative was created.
“BCreative started when our board noticed that the arts, creative learning and that kind of focus were leaving schools,” says Wallace. “There’s not a lot of extra money in schools and funding for the arts has been cut. We thought this would be a way to help teachers plan fun activities to help their students learn.
Among the most recent field trips was one that involved second-grade students from Wattles Park Elementary School who visited Charlton Historical Park Village, museum and recreation area in Hastings as part of their history lessons. Wallace says they learned how to make soup, churn butter, and learned how people in the late 1800s to early 1900s lived and made money.
“A few years ago we had a school group that went to ArtPrice in Grand Rapids,” she said. “It was an opportunity to show them amazing works of art.”
A field trip grant covered the cost of taking Riverside Elementary School students to annual free school concerts given by the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra, says Paula Carr, a K-4 music teacher at Riverside.
“It’s an incredible opportunity and we’re lucky to be able to go there,” she said.
The Riverside students also attended a concert given by the Battle Creek Brass Band.
“A group of teachers from my school applied and took the school to see the Battle Creek Brass Band,” Carr says.
Wallace says the Music Center also organized field trips for the students. She says field trips that were once available for K-12 students are now available for classes with 3-year-olds and preschoolers. This interaction “exposes children to the development of music, movement, dance and the possibility of playing instruments,” she says.
With a focus on teaching to test, Wallace says the types of field trips and scholarships through BCreative provide teachers with different tools to engage students in creative learning.
Field trips can take place anywhere in the state of Michigan.
“If a teacher can find a way to incorporate it into their curriculum, we’re in favor of that,” Wallace says. “Sometimes we have art teachers, but it can be any teacher.”
Creative Field Trip Grants pay up to $500 per class. Wallace says often educators plan a trip with other educators and students and can end up with $2,000 by pooling grant funds.
“There is no cap,” she says. “Technically, someone could choose to take an entire school.”
On the scholarship side, students received between $50 and $3,000 to cover half the cost of the arts program they are attending.
“We really appreciated how the foundation and BCreative allowed her to grow every summer and be able to last for many years,” says Jennifer Decker, Laine’s mother. “Blue Lake is not cheap. Being able to have this scholarship to pay for half of the camp allowed him to develop his confidence in his musical skills. I appreciate that they have invested in the youth in the arts in this community. I hope one day (Laine) will be part of the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra or some other community group.
Wallace says the scholarships are not based on need.
“Our board wanted the arts to be available in all areas, but felt strongly that they didn’t want the kids to have to talk about the deficits,” she says. “As long as you live in the Battle Creek area and attend Battle Creek schools, public or private, you are eligible. They can apply to any organization in the state, but it must be non-profit.
Creative funding is not limited to music or art camps and includes anything creative, from painting to writing to singing, computer design, even programming, architecture and art. other specialized programs that further develop the student’s creative talents, according to information on the Miller Foundation website. .
Laine says BCreative supports young people like her who are interested in the arts and need extra support that is not available in schools.
“If you don’t fund the arts, kids don’t have an outlet for that creative part of themselves,” she says.