The state of music education in Texas is, well, depressing. Facing extreme budget cuts, schools across the state were forced to drastically cut music and art programs for students, especially those in socioeconomically disadvantaged districts. As a result, nonprofits and other organizations have been forced to fill the gap. Fortunately, Rachel Michaud is happy to provide music education to girls of all walks of life through her Girls Rock Dallas camps every summer.
Dallas isn’t the only city that plays home to Girls Rock camps. The first Rock N’ Roll Camp For Girls was hosted in 2007 in Portland, Oregon, and has since inspired similar camps across the globe. Michaud encountered the camps via a documentary, and knew that she had to get involved. “I watched Girls Rock: The Movie a few years ago, and it really got stuck in my mind,” says Michaud. “My band had just broken up, and I was at a point in my life where I wanted to do something else.”
From there, Michaud reached out to the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, a network of music camps for girls that grew from the original camp in Portland. After doing her research, Michaud hooked up with the Girls Rock camp in Austin, and got to work in bringing Girls Rock to Dallas. “It’s something that I felt was really important for Dallas-Fort Worth to have,” says Michaud. “I grew up in North Texas and I didn’t really have any kind of opportunities like this when I was growing up.”
She cut her teeth as a volunteer for the Austin camp, as a way to learn how to go about operating her own rock 'n’ roll camp. With a small team of six or seven volunteers, Michaud used what she learned in Austin to build a curriculum and host the inaugural camp in 2012. “It was a lot of work, but we had a great group of individuals that supported us and wanted us to be part of Girls Rock in the first year,” says Michaud. “They really took the mission to heart. Everyone was so full of energy and excited to be there. It’s probably still one of the best years that we’ve had.”
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The first Girls Rock Dallas camp hosted 30 campers, and in 2015, it had grown to host nearly 60. Still, Michaud says that in its fourth year, this year’s camp had a “first year feel.” “We had a bunch of new volunteers coming in, and a lot of new campers as well,” she says. “Everyone was new, excited and happy. Just really great energy across the board. It’s probably, again, one of the best that we’ve ever had. I couldn’t be happier with the year that we’ve had.”
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The camp mostly grew by word of mouth, says Michaud, but the organization also developed a partnership with Uplift Education’s charter schools to work with their students. As a result, the backgrounds of the campers at Girls Rock have been incredibly diverse. “We are fulfilling that music and artistic creative side of our campers that is definitely disappearing within our school system,” says Michaud. “These programs aren’t offered anymore unless you’re in private school or you can pay for them. But girls from all economic backgrounds can benefit, because we have things that even other music schools don’t offer.”
At present, Michaud and her all-volunteer team are working to expand the programming that Girls Rock Dallas currently offers. In the coming months, Girls Rock is planning plenty of growth, including more summer sessions and after-school programs. “We’re always looking for ways to improve. It’s really important that we keep things fresh and are making sure that the girls are having fun," she says. “We’ve been talking about doing some different programming throughout the year, changing up our camp workshops and even doing a gear loan program for the girls that don’t have the opportunity to own an instrument.”
Perhaps most importantly, Michaud wants her campers to learn as much as possible, and then return to give back. Fortunately, she’s already started seeing that. “We’ve had campers that have been here for all four years of camp, and they’re interns now,” says Michaud. “They help behind the scenes, help us throught the year. I would love for them to turn 18 and volunteer, but I also want them to be really good with their instrument and have the confidence to start a band.”
Whether the attendees of the Girls Rock Dallas camps go on to be rock stars or not, Michaud mostly wants to ensure the girls she teaches are empowered and excited about their futures. “For every girl, the takeaway is different. We hope they feel empowered in some way, whether that’s being on stage or playing an instrument or finding a role model at camp that they can look up to,” says Michaud. “We want them to have the opportunity to be themselves, to be empowered and to know that they can handle anything that they face — and that they are just awesome.”