Students, parents and professionals received insight into the groundbreaking post-secondary music education programs for musically talented, neurodivergent young adults offered by the Southwest Florida Music Education Center (SWFLMEC) at Artis-Naples on March 26.
At the center’s first event, prospective students received information on the program and then were invited to experience instruction with the Center’s Director of Music Education Hannah Fan by forming an impromptu ensemble that resulted in a brief performance for parents and supporters.
Via Zoom, they heard from Dr. Rhoda Bernard, founding managing director of the Berklee Institute for Arts Education and Special Needs (BIAESN) of the Berklee College of Music in Boston. She outlined the Center’s curriculum, created by her staff at BIAESN, and discussed the impact of BIAESN’s current Saturday program, which served as the inspiration for SWFLMEC.
“We are making a remarkable difference in people’s lives,” she said, telling a story about a graduate of BIAESN’s program who sings professionally on Broadway.
SWFLMEC Founder and Board Chair Rob Moher noted that the SWFLMEC’s certificate programs, which have been in the works with BIAESN for just over a year, are nationally significant and will serve as model for other programs.
Parent Hetty Weinstein said seeing her son Michael playing guitar with other potential students at the session brought tears to her eyes.
“My son loves music, and this gives him a chance to feel like he’s part of something,” she said. “He’s always wanted to go to college, but with his disability has been unable to. This is such a gift for the community. We thought we might need to leave here for a place with more services, but here we are, right in our back yard.”
Nancy Gardella said she is also thrilled to have an opportunity for her son Jonathan, who plays violin.
“Berklee is one of the finest music schools, and to have their expertise connected to my son’s particular disability and to meet the students where they are is a priceless opportunity,” she said. “This community has the resources to support a model program of this kind. Finally, there is something for people who have disabilities but also talent.”
Since 2019, SWFLMEC has offered the community small-scale, low-cost collaborative music education for neurodivergent and neurotypical peers through a program entitled The Creative Group. This fall, the Center will begin offering two-year and four-year post-secondary music certificates at Artis-Naples’ Toni Stabile Education Building, focusing on core areas of musical skill development for students who learn differently than their typical peers.
“We’ve been collaborating since the start with The Creative Group, and then having it grow into a partnership with Berklee for a certificate program is natural to what we do here,” said Kathleen van Bergen, CEO and president of Artis-Naples. “It adds so much to our community.”
Phase two of the project will include a new campus, student living center and dormitory. The Southwest Florida Music Education Center is currently seeking groundbreaking support to build the new music center and dormitory, including land purchase and campus development. For more information about certificate programs or to support the project, contact Jennifer Clark at JenC@SWFLmusic.org or 239-205-8258 or visit swflmusic.org.
About the Southwest Florida Music Education Center
The Southwest Florida Music Education Center is a not-for-profit organization serving neurodivergent young adults with a strong interest in music. Based in Naples, Florida, its mission is to create a world-class music education center where neurodivergent students who have a strong interest in music and low to moderate support needs receive education in music and life skills, preparing them for meaningful growth opportunities that enrich their lives and the community. For more information, visit SWFLmusic.org.