Kids throughout Elmhurst and the surrounding communities often spend their late afternoon hours exploring the arts with the program at 51st Avenue Academy, located at 76-05 51st Ave.
Christopher Sierra, teaching artist and choral director of the Arts and Literacy Program, invited Jones – a former college friend - and others to sing with the children and inspire a summer of art engagement.
“Most of these kids aren’t exposed to quality performances,” Sierra said. “Most don’t have the budget to go to Broadway or Carnegie Hall.”
In addition to choral classes, the young musicians also take lessons in dance and visual arts through the program.
Sierra said he treats his students like “little adults,” a practice he firmly believes is the most effective way to build trust and confidence when exploring their creative side.
“I think that children are a lot brighter than we give them credit,” Sierra said. “I encourage them to challenge each other, but for me, learning is teaching and teaching is learning, and I think they’ve gathered that. It’s a mutual growing experience.”
Jones, a top 10 finalist from Season 11 of American Idol, went to college with Sierra at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, and said visiting his former classmate to help inspire the next generation of aspiring singers is really what his journey has always been about.
“Coming out today is like empowering the kids,” he said. “If I can be that person through music to inspire somebody, then my job is done.”
With after-school programs and the arts often on the chopping block in schools throughout the country, Jones added that it is more important than ever to help make a difference.
“We understand the importance of music and a lot of people don’t understand that,” he said. “It’s empowering. If I can empower one child today, then it has all been worth it.”
Rising Broadway star Natalie Randall also joined Jones and others to sing with the student group last week, with scores from famous Broadway musicals like Rent.
“I remember when I was younger and being able to see guest artists come in, see my teachers sing in class and go over music,” Randall said. “It helped inspire me at a young age.”