By Kristine Sorensen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – When the pandemic forced schools to close their doors and teach online, a local music teacher couldn’t teach violin at her school anymore, but she didn’t’ let that stop her. She found a way to buy 520 ukuleles for her elementary school students and saw how the arts are helping kids get through the pandemic.

“Three, two, one, go. Mary had a little lamb,” the Watties Children strum and sing at home, thanks to their new ukuleles from Baden Academy Charter School.

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Nine-year-old Arion Watties says, “I like that me and my sister get to play it together.”

Ten-year-old Amaya says, “I usually do it when I feel like I can’t do something with my schoolwork, so I use ukulele as a stress reliever. I just pick it up and start playing it.”

Their mom, Mary, says, “It’s been kind of happy. They’ve been able to find a way to self-soothe through all of this.”

Baden Academy Charter School strings teacher Shundeena Beard couldn’t teach violin this year, in part because sanitizing the shared instruments at the school would damage them. So when she got a ukulele as a gift this summer, she realized it would be an easy instrument to teach to her young students and presented the idea to Baden Academy.

“I think it was just a combined effort of believers in my school,” she says.

Beard teaches ukulele for first through sixth graders and says it’s giving kids confidence and a way to get their frustrations out.

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“I think it helps them get out of their head and put that through the music and take their mind off it or process it. Or it just feels good to have a release of that expression,” Beard says.

Ray Ortiz, a musician and a dad, bought his own ukulele.

“I’m actually learning with them to play so I’ll sit down with Ailee and do her music lessons or sit down with Payton and do his lesson, so it’s really cool. We’re kind of learning it together,” he says.

Eight-year-old Ailee adds, “I think it’s really cool because it’s like a new thing, and music’s pretty much always been a part of my life.”

Twelve-year-old Payton says, “I just generally like playing the ukulele. It’s a really easy instrument.”

The kids and families like it so much, the school is looking into ways to continue it, even when they return to violin lessons.

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Kristine Sorensen