The Be FRANK Foundation promotes the engagement of youth to develop life-long skills of Creativity, Accountability, Practice,and Ensemble through the power of music.
Lech Usinowicz (aka "Mr.U"), then Bayfield School District grades 2-5 general music teacher, initiated a youth orchestra in '08-09 to fill an orchestral music void in K-12 and share his passion for string music. He had strong parental support (300 petition signers) with minimal District assistance beyond meeting space. The first orchestra opportunity was free and attracted 13 students. Today, Be FRANK offers 23 programs in collaboration with 13 school sites in La Plata County taught by highly trained instructors, serving ~300 students, primarily ages 6-14 This expansion is compelling testament to that initial vision and the dynamism with which it has been embraced and supported by students, families, and our community.
Orchestral programming has expanded organically as opportunities for middle and high school students, along with percussion groups, called DRUM (Discipline, Respect, Unity through Music), were added. DRUM uses Orff Schulwerk barred instruments and hand percussion, offering unique, complementary learning experiences to orchestra. DRUM and orchestra are scheduled to allow students to participate in both. Growth brought need for administrative help and led to formation of a Board, and designation of the Be FRANK Foundation (BFF) as a 501(c)(3) on October 1, 2013. In 2015-16, Mr. U reduced his role with Bayfield Schools to .5 FTE to give more attention to BFF Executive Director/Instructor duties.
BFF hopes to build sufficient interest, support, and success - particularly for orchestral music - that local schools adopt these programs, giving them sustainability beyond the life of BFF and tenure of Mr. Usinowicz. To date, BFF has successfully achieved a shared responsibility with three mid and high school orchestra classes offered by Bayfield School District.
In May 2016, Durango K-5 music teachers met with BFF to discuss issues of unequal string pedagogy training, scant instrument inventory, and concerns re: inequity across seven programs. BFF responded with a proposal to manage the 9R extracurricular orchestra program, formalized by a MOU September 2016 recognizing BFF as a partner responsible for contracting instructors, instrument purchase and repair, tuition & rental fee accounting, and scholarships.
BFF expanded to Ignacio in January 2017, offering an extracurricular DRUM program at Ignacio Elementary, using the IES music room and Orff instruments, with BFF supplying the instructor and tuition/scholarship management.
The Creative Music Conservatory (more information included under Programs section) was successfully launched in July 2019, housed at Fort Lewis College, and providing ensemble, small group, and large group instruction and performance opportunities to over 60 youth, ages 7-17. These students performed twice at weeks end, including with "elective" groups (Rock, Hip Hop, Celtic, and Bluegrass) on the Pine River Festival Stage in Eagle Park, Bayfield.
Be FRANK remains committed to "unlimited scholarship support" for every student and family requesting financial assistance. This remains a significant part of the BFF annual budget, and why BFF seeks donor support!
From a BFF participant: "Music has definitely changed my life. I wouldn't be as confident as I am if it weren't for music. I play music because it is a great opportunity to learn new skills and to meet new people. Music has inspired me to try new things. Playing the cello helps me feel free, calm and relaxed. When I play music I feel like I can do anything. I believe that music is more than just notes played in a specific order. Music is a story. It is an adventure. Music has played a big role in my life. Without it I don't know where I'd be." - 7th grade orchestra member
"I'm amazed everyday that a music program with this quality is offered in our little town." Bayfield Parent
"Thank you for providing this wonderful opportunity for our children!" - Ignacio DRUM Parent
"The skills of the teachers and volunteers are appreciated!!" - Durango Parent"
"The scholarship [provided by BFF] made my child's participation possible." - Durango Parent
"BFF offers good programs for the students. Overall it's run well... and the instructors I've met are strong.- Private Music Teacher in La Plata County