Thorsby teacher awarded arts grant

Published 4:09 pm Monday, April 3, 2023

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By Elisabeth Altamirano-Smith | Community Column

Thorsby High School music teacher Cheryl O’Brien was recently awarded her second Alabama Arts Education Initiative Grant. The grant is awarded by the State Department of Education and Alabama State Council on the Arts to strengthen and develop arts programs across Alabama.

O’Brien teaches elementary music to Pre-k through sixth grade as well as general music to middle and high school students and band. She received her bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance from the University of Alabama and a Master of Music Education from Samford University.

Last year, O’Brien was awarded $20,000 from the grant initiative. Funds were used to purchase instruments, expendable materials, provide professional development and bring in clinicians to work with the students. This year’s grant of $10,000 will be used for a sousaphone, baritone, and trombone, which will be owned by the school but signed out to students who need them.

“Every child needs something that they excel at, or makes them excited at school, whether it is academics, sports or the arts,” O’Brien said. “All arts — visual art, drama, or music — exercise your brain and your heart. They also happen to be the subjects that often get overlooked and are usually the first subjects to experience budget cuts. I was lucky enough to have many arts programs throughout my public school education, allowing me to discover and pursue my natural talents and passions. We see so many students here at Thorsby with undeveloped talents including drawing, singing, painting, and writing — that we cannot nurture. Seeking out grant opportunities can help fulfill those needs we have in our community and school.”

O’Brien has secured several other grants, totaling $36,000, for the Thorsby Band Program including the Alabama Power “Power to Play,” CBS “One Class at a Time,” and the Lake Mitchell Home and Boat Owners Association Grant, which helped with instrument and uniform purchases.

“Music programs are expensive to operate,” O’Brien said. “Between uniforms, buses to football games, instruments, music and repairs it stretches our small budget. I don’t want money to be a factor in any student participating in band, so it is my goal to provide quality, school-owned instruments and materials to anyone who needs them. I hope to continue writing grant proposals so that we can also expand our elementary music program. I funded enough elementary instruments through Donors Choose when I started at THS, but our student body has grown so much that I now don’t have enough instruments for Pre-K-6th grade classes.”

O’Brien is currently in her fifth year at Thorsby School. She resides in Alabaster with her husband and two children.