Members of Pulaski Street Elementary School’s art club are using strings and screws to help kids in need — some of them very far away.
Fifth- and sixth-graders have been working to repair guitars for children in Puerto Rico, California, Texas and Florida. Next, they’ll do the same for students at a girls’ school in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Art teacher Bob Fallot had the idea to help focus normally antsy kids by keeping them busy working with their hands.
“I have kids who spend all day in front of a screen and when you put a screwdriver in their hand, you can’t get them to stop,” Mr. Fallot said. “It turns something on in them that has lain dormant.”
Mr. Fallot uses eBay to bid on damaged guitars, which he can often purchase for only a penny because they are deemed unsellable. He sees rebuilding these guitars as an empowering activity for the students. He has found expensive, name-brand guitars like Fender, Tanglewood and Epiphone. Some were floor models that got knocked over. He even got a few Epiphone guitars for a bargain price when a delivery truck got into an accident, leaving many of the instruments broken and scratched.
“With a little care, we actually make them back into playable instruments,” Mr. Fallot said. “It’s very empowering to see a bunch of stuff that looks like wiring and screws and to work on that and bring home a completely usable instrument. It’s priceless.”
He also aims to teach his students that they can do things on their own and he helps them realize that it’s not that hard to fix an instrument.
Interest in the school art club has been so high that multiple sections were created to allow everyone to participate. The club meets twice a week for four weeks. In that time, students design guitars and vote on their favorite creations. Then they begin working on restoration — sanding, painting and reassembling the guitars into usable instruments.
“The goal is to pass along the work that we do,” he said to his students. “Everything we create and everything we repair we pass it over to people who are in more need than us.”
At least a dozen guitars have been repaired and donated since the start of the school year, and some have gone to other students within the Riverhead Central School District. Mr. Fallot works with several nonprofits on finding recipients.
When the guitars are ready to be shipped, club members write letters to wishing the new owners well with their new instruments.
“I like to design and repair them,” said 11-year-old Anielka Guevara. “It feels good doing something nice.”
Mr. Fallot has been repairing guitars on his own for years. He had a guitar that he kept at his desk and, one day, he heard a crash and found the guitar in two pieces on the floor. He took the guitar to a music shop, but the repair cost was prohibitive, so he decided to try fixing it himself.
“There’s no greater gift than giving people the gift of music,” Mr. Fallot said. “Once the kids get into it and they realize that it’s not that hard and it’s kind of fun, it just has a momentum of its own.”