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Creating a post-secondary pathway for students who learn differently

Posted at 8:45 AM, Aug 26, 2021

NAPLES, Fla — A first of its kind, post-secondary music education and life skills center for students who learn differently is coming to Southwest Florida.

This is something that's going to meet a great need in the Southwest Florida community and eventually communities around the world.

Southwest Florida Music Education Center Founder and Board Chair Rob Moher said research shows that once students who learn differently finish high school, many are stuck in a standstill.

"They have a difficulty finding employment, they have difficulty finding connections and advancing education, there's not a clear path for these students. So at least in the sector of music, we're going to be creating that path," Moher explained.

Setting out to build a first of its kind, world-class music education and post-secondary center all started with Moher's daughter.

"From a young age she loved music, right? So she dabbled on guitars and piano, and as she grew up, you know she overcame a lot of medical challenges. And so her pathway's always been very nontraditional so we've always had to sort of develop what I would call a custom-path," Moher explained.

"As her path continued, as she went through middle school and high school, and her love of music just continued to grow, it was apparent to us that we were going to need to continue that custom path," he said.

Moher said they looked all over the country for a post-secondary music program she could go to. The problem is one doesn't exist. But what they did find were the people they need to create one.

"We ended up at Berklee College of Music in Boston. And what we saw that they were doing there was teaching a unique way, specially trained teachers, who were teaching neurodivergent students music skills. And we thought, this is amazing, but we don't want to leave Southwest Florida. Then the pandemic hit, and so what we found ourselves saying why don't we build the pathway here? Why don't we create the first music center, post-secondary that will basically allow students who are neurodiverse and neurodivergent to basically pursue their ambitions and dreams but do so in a way that meets their needs with the support," said Moher.

They're partnering with Berklee, who right now is developing a curriculum that'll give students the opportunity to earn two and four-year certificates.

The goal is to have the center up and running in some capacity by next Fall.

In the meantime, they're offering part-time programming out of Artis—Naples.

"I think one of the amazing things that is offered in our current programming is that individuals can come to us at the beginner level. Once we start our certificate programs, we're looking for students who already have an established skill and have spent some time mastering their instrument. So students who think that they may be interested in starting with our certificate programs can start now with the creative group to get ready for what's to come," said Jennifer Clark, Vice President, Southwest Florida Music Education Center.

Phase two has goals that go beyond the two and four-year certificates, to make sure students have the long-term support they need to truly pursue their passion.

"The center is more than just a day music program. One of the pieces that's in our second phase is we will be building a student living and dormitory center, so that we can also teach other skills that help build more independence, a sense of you know ability to go out into the world and prepare them for opportunities for employment," said Moher.

The long-term hope is that this center will be a flagship program that can be replicated, to help students around the world who learn differently be able to pursue their passion.

Learn more here.