Alex Axup got to channel her inner Jack Black this school year at Moline’s Wilson Middle School.
The 24-year-old alum of Rock Island High and St. Ambrose is a veteran bass player and a current member of the bands Fair Warning and The Velies. Axup coordinated the new “School of Rock Club” – comprised of six 8th graders from Wilson, where she teaches 8th grade math.
The band will perform Thursday, May 25, from 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. as part of the free summer concert series at Bass Street Landing in downtown Moline. The School of Rock Club band will fittingly open for the headliner band, Fair Warning.
Students will perform all covers of songs that they have selected.
Earlier in May, the six Wilson students from the band went to the Underground Economy Recording Studio at Common Chord, Davenport, to record a few songs, followed by a 25-minute concert performance for their families at the Redstone Room.
The School of Rock Club is one of 23 offerings available to students through the “Lights on for Learning” program. Lights on for Learning is a federally-funded five-year grant program, and this school year is the last one for Wilson.
“These kids are awesome. They are so polite and determined and dedicated, that they make me want to work for them,” Axup said Wednesday. “They put in the time, like it’s a very mutual bond and I feel invested in them.”
Allison Glessner, another Wilson math teacher and site coordinator for the federal grant, is impressed with how the club has operated.
“Alex Axup has been crucial to the development and success of this program,” she said Wednesday. “She has combined her enthusiasm for teaching and her love of music performance to create an unforgettable experience for this group of middle school students.
“The School of Rock band has met weekly throughout the school year learning not only how to better play their instruments, but also how to function as a musical group,” Glessner said. “They’ve also just performed an after-school concert for students and staff in the WMS Auditorium. Without doubt, this experience has created lifelong memories for these students and Miss Axup as well.”
Applying personal experience
Axup played bass in jazz band throughout high school and college, and didn’t join her first rock band until she was 19. She took part in the Common Chord (then River Music Experience) Rock Camp (now called Kidstock) as a teenager, and later became an instructor, over the past three summers.
The Kidstock weeklong summer music camp (in three sessions) gives young musicians (ages 8-18) the chance to participate in workshops led by professional musicians, form a band with fellow campers, and put on a performance in the Redstone Room for their friends and family. Students learn valuable life skills such as teamwork, confidence, and self-expression – all while doing something they love.
None of the Wilson kids have done Kidstock, but Axup encouraged them to sign up. The sessions are June 26-30, July 10-14 and July 24-28. The groups meet weekdays noon to 5 p.m.
The Wilson grant allowed them to buy thousands of dollars worth of musical equipment (including instruments, amplifiers, and sound equipment).
“I didn’t really have to do auditions because I had eight kids come out for the club and they just all happened to essentially play different things,” Axup said, noting a couple kids had to drop out, leaving the six. “It was just perfect. It was like, it was meant to be.”
She would rehearse with them Mondays after school. Their favorite songs (among a repertoire of eight covers) are the rock classics “Smoke on the Water” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Axup patterned the Wilson rock band after her work with the students in Kidstock. That’s why she reached out to Common Chord’s Ben Schwind, to arrange for the recording session and concert at the Redstone Room.
“It was cool. They just got the experience, when they go in there. It’s not to perfect the recording, but it’s just to get the experience and not to overwhelm them,” Axup said.
“A huge enrichment opportunity”
The band fits neatly into Lights on for Learning, she noted.
“It’s definitely a huge enrichment opportunity for these kids because similar to me, if it hadn’t been for Rock Camp, I never would have gotten to perform in a band or play rock music,” Axup said. “I was only playing jazz stuff at school. So for them, it’s an opportunity to do something that they didn’t have an outlet to do before.”
The Wilson band on Thursday will open for Axup’s band Fair Warning at Bass Street Landing; Mo Carter was originally supposed to open but Axup asked her permission to switch and she enthusiastically agreed.
Even with the loss of funding for Wilson, Axup will look into private donors or sponsors to continue the School of Rock club. The instruments and equipment will stay at the school, she said. The current members all have their own instruments and hope to continue as a band in high school.
Another teacher at Wilson, Kim Resler, saw the student band perform at a school concert Tuesday, May 23.
“What an amazing opportunity these kids have had over the past 7 months,” she said in an email. “To think that Thursday they will be performing at Bass Street Landing in front of a full audience gives me goosebumps.
“As a true music lover, to think they will be on the ‘big stage’ in front of hundreds of other music lovers warms my heart. They are going to wow that audience,” Resler wrote. “I can’t wait for the reaction of the adults that attend, to realize these are 14-year-olds that have been given an opportunity of a lifetime.
“Fostering that love for music is beyond words,” she said. “I am so proud of our students and all their hard work, as well Ms. Axup for the time and guidance she has given them to make this dream of theirs come true.”
“Lights On” turning off
Wilson Middle School (1301 48th St., Moline) is currently in its fifth year of the Lights on for Learning program. Enrollment is open to all Wilson students, and there are 246 participants for this school year.
The program offers academic support as well as enrichment programs before and after school free of charge for families, Allison Glessner said. Programming is driven by student interest obtained through annual surveys. The Lights on for Learning program is also available at John Deere Middle School, Moline.
The School of Rock club is part of a larger collection of programming at Wilson made possible by the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers federal grant.
This is a five-year grant that Wilson was awarded in 2019 along with more than 80 other sites throughout Illinois, Glessner said. “Sadly, due to a lack of funding, this entire program will not be renewed for Wilson or any of the other sites in the 2019 cohort next year,” she said Wednesday.
Wilson’s “Lights On” includes 24 different before- and after-school programs that provide both academic support as well as enrichment opportunities that are based on student interests.
Over the life of the grant, Wilson is proud to report that nearly 1,000 students have participated in our programs, Glessner said. The school has had $135,000 to spend annually on supplies and materials, field trip fees, field trip transportation, community partnerships (for example, they partner with Black Hawk College to provide GED and EL classes for free to families of Wilson Lights On students) and staff salaries.
School doors open and the “lights turn on” each morning at 7:05 (which is 45 minutes before the start of school) and Wilson keeps the “lights on” with programs running until 5:20 p.m. nearly every school day (which is more than two hours after school dismisses), Glessner said. The last day of school will be June 9.
“For five amazing years, our middle school students have had a safe place to be before and after school where they’ve been able to receive the academic support they’ve needed and they’ve been able to find new friends through common interests,” Glessner said.
“Each year, Wilson’s Lights On catalog of offerings has changed in response to student voices as heard through annual student interest surveys,” she said. “We’ve been able to cater our programming to provide meaningful enrichment clubs specifically chosen by our students.”
To learn more about Common Chord’s Kidstock, click HERE.