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Beyond the Books: elementary students build bonds through rocking out

Members of the After School Specials 3rd and 4th grade band jam out for an audience at Shimek Elementary School.

Once the month of May arrives, most Corridor kiddos are ready for a break from the books.

One Iowa City elementary has students exchanging the rest and relaxation for one last riff.

Shimek Elementary School offers students in the Before and After School Program an option to join a music group called the After School Specials.

The program's director, Matt Larson, said the band began with a few students wanting to perform "a song or two" in the school's talent show.

"More and more kids came forward wanting to play," said Larson with a smile, "and now we're here."

Once a handful of kids, now the demand drives Larson to divide the kids into two different bands -- third and fourth grade, fifth and sixth grade.

Larson said music lends itself to elementary-aged kids, as the hands-on style of learning keeps their attention.

Students are getting a glimpse of playing in a rock band, and growing their skills as musicians and teammates.

"I think it's helped me learn how to get -- make my singing a lot better and learn new songs," said fifth grader Leah Black, who joined the band in third grade. "And learn how to be a part of a team with my friends."

While the project is a major undertaking for Larson and wife Clare -- who serves as a co-director -- Larson said the excitement makes the endeavor worthwhile.

"It's a dream come true to do this kind of project with the kids," said Larson, "and I hope it keeps going into the foreseeable future, because it's just been a joy. It's been a pleasure."

School is officially out for Shimek students, but some in the band are turning their attention to next year.

"I liked it this year," said Dominic Roe, who particularly enjoys drumming. "I want to keep on going."

Others are less subtle, like bassist Leo Burchett, who urges community members to give the elementary band a listen.

"We rock, and you should come see us because we're awesome."

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