Written by Cassandra Rocha
For more than two years, Eric Van Buhler, an innovative software engineer at Qualcomm, has been volunteering with Guitars in the Classroom (GITC), helping to spread the power of music to children. Eric currently helps teach first graders strumming patterns, song memorization and how to play the ukulele at Dewey Elementary School.
“Watching the kids gain confidence week after week in playing songs is amazing, and once they have the confidence, their creativity really flourishes,” said Eric.
He first read about the organization from an email sent to music-loving employees about volunteer opportunities within GITC from his colleague, Scott Fischel, who serves as the Vice President of the GITC board of directors. Being a guitarist himself, seeing the word “guitar” in the headline of the email was enough to peak his interest in the organization. After learning more about GITC, Eric decided that cause was a perfect fit for him.
“Music was a big part of my childhood growing up, and I can’t imagine what I would be like today without that. When I first learned about GITC, I realized the vision they had was closely aligned with my own thoughts on music in education. That was enough to get me to sign up for a class with Jessica and see how everything worked,” said Eric.
Every Friday Eric visits Kim Smith’s first grade classroom and gives students the chance to experience the many benefits of music integration. (Kim has been taking teacher training classes with GITC for going on three years.) Her lessons involve everyone in the classroom singing a couple of education fun songs together to reinforce ideas and facts. As the children sing the songs they have been working on, Eric sings along with them and plays his guitar.
After this, children have the opportunity to spend more quality time with Eric in a small group setting. They break out into groups of 3 or 4 to practice playing the ukulele and singing together outside.
“The children are like sponges. They are so interested in learning new things and being able to play musical instruments is incredible,” said Kim. GITC has provided these instruments to Dewey Elementary as part of their participation in GITC trainings and in The Liberty School, a special grant through the NTC Foundation for introducing Title 1 students to the arts.
Aside from helping students to learn music inside the classroom, Eric has also helped students put on performances. He recalls the children doing a performance of “Mele Kalikimaka” in front of a coffee shop and bookstore with ukulele.
“The weather was against us, but still, their parents came to support them. The kids had a great time and sounded great! I think it was a great accomplishment for the class and a great experience for the kids to see that they would still get support from loved ones even outside in the pouring rain,” Eric said.
While Eric also plays the ukulele and the piano, his favorite instrument to play is the guitar. “I love playing guitar for so many reasons. You can take a guitar anywhere, play on your own when you’re feeling introspective, take it on stage for a performance or jump in with a jam session,” Eric said.
He began to play seriously in college about nine years ago and loves to share his passion of music with children and others. “Last year we sang ‘Octopus’ Garden,’ which was really fun for me since I love The Beatles. Many of the kids already knew the song pretty well, which helped them gain confidence.” Eric said.
Eric is excited to continue teaching students at Dewey Elementary School, the area’s only Title 1 elementary school. Many of the children attending this neighborhood school come from military families with E6 status meaning they are serving their country for a small paycheck. Extra curricular music lessons would be beyond many of their means. So Eric’s efforts are helping Dewey teacher, Kim Smith make sure her young students experience music as a regular part of learning. He is eager to be more involved with the organization.
Eric explains, “I love seeing the impact of Guitars in the Classroom in Kim’s class, and knowing there are many others out there doing the same or even far more than me. It is really motivating to me to think about how big the impact really is with so many committed and talented people in the organization.”
In addition to helping out in the classroom, Eric’s volunteer work further help the organization through Qualcomm’s volunteer grants. Qualcomm employees have the opportunity to apply for a $250 volunteer grant for an organization after volunteering with that organization for 15 hours. Furthermore, Qualcomm supports its employees charitable contributions through its matching gift program, which matches their employees’ financial donations to charitable organizations.