Tim Walck oversees the music program in the Austin Area School District, the smallest district in Pennsylvania, whose graduating class last year consisted of 10 students. “With class sizes so small, the same students tend to participate in almost everything,” Walck said. “This has great benefits, but the challenges of balancing schedules, focus and quality of work are very real.”
The district is also the most rural — “Wal-Mart is more than an hour away, and the closest town band is even farther,” Walck said. “So, opportunities to experience an orchestra, winds ensemble, jazz band, stage production, solo artist or performing arts event of any nature are infrequent — even prior to Covid.”
Despite these challenges, Walck is dedicated to ensuring that his students have the same opportunities and experiences that students have in larger districts. According to one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, “Walck has endeavored to utilize a hands-on approach to music education, where students are constantly playing and creating music.”
For example, due to the small student population, Walck decided to forego a traditional band and formed rock bands at the elementary and high schools. Walck’s long-term goal is to have the rock band travel and compete, but with the pandemic, the bands were temporarily sidelined. “But students have been rehearsing in individual lessons with the goal of creating a multitrack recording. This is a work in progress as my students and I expand our technical abilities,” Walck said.
Another creative outlet for Austin students is Muse Guitars, a student-run business that launched in September 2020 and sponsored by Read World Scholars. Students build and design sellable products — namely, ukuleles and guitars — and “experience entrepreneurship and learn job-readiness skills, such as website development and design, marketing, branding and, of course, crafting and personalizing their instruments and products,” Walck said.