Girl wins award for service |

Girl wins award for service

Laurel Barchas doesn’t fit the image of the stereotypic, tyrannical piano teacher. She jokes around with her students, as they sit at a rickety, scratched-up piano in a classroom at Truckee Elementary School. Even when her students fumble over the notes, Barchas tells them they are doing a great job.

Barchas seems at ease, and as a result, her students do too.

Also making her an atypical piano instructor, the Tahoe Truckee High School junior gives the private lessons for free. With help from three of her friends, Barchas started the Truckee Youth Music Program for low-income elementary students.

“It’s hard for some of these kids who can’t afford to rent or buy instruments,” she said.

Barchas wanted everyone to have the option to learn music, something she has enjoyed since her childhood.

Last summer, Barchas presented her plan to offer free music lessons to local clubs and organizations and asked for their support. After garnering more than $9,000 in donations to rent instruments and purchase music books, Barchas and her friends – Lindsey Buchanan, Emma Shaffer and Lindsey Hines – began giving lessons on Sept. 18, 2002.

“These kids started out not knowing anything and they’ve made huge progress,” Barchas said.

The program started with 15 participants and has grown to 20 since the beginning of the school year. Every Wednesday, each student gets a 30-minute private lesson on clarinet, trumpet, flute or piano.

Last month, Barchas received a call during class, asking her to go to the principal’s office. Truckee High Principal Mike Finney told her she had been honored for her efforts in starting the Truckee Youth Music Program. She was chosen as one of two students, statewide, to receive a Prudential Spirit of Community Award, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism.

Barchas will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., in May.

“When Mr. Finney called me into the office and he read the letter to me, telling me what I’d won, I got really excited,” she said. “[The honorees] get to do all these tours and recognition events.”

Also, while in Washington, D.C., Barchas will find out if she’s one of five high school students who will be named America’s top youth volunteers.

Good luck Laurel.

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