June 14, 2023

On April 20th, I jumped onto a school bus at Washington Elementary School with two SWAN students. Our mission? Gather our fellow SWAN students at three additional locations and head to the Ware Center for a concert! This concert took place at an award ceremony presented by SCORE Lancaster-Lebanon, during which our director, Diana Vuolo, would receive the Small Business Award for her work with and leadership of SWAN for Kids.

As we arrived at our next stop, I wondered how it would go, gathering four SWAN classes together. Would they feel confident to make new friends or be a bit shy? These kids had experienced the safety of bonding with their smaller classes; how would they feel in this larger group?

My doubts quickly dissolved into joy as the kids eagerly greeted each new class that boarded the bus. The excitement of these students to meet the other SWAN kids was contagious and exactly the energy we needed for a wonderful performance! Introductions were made, names were shared, and with all the performers picked up, we headed to the Ware Center. The friendly conversations throughout the bus lifted my heart.

Before the performance, nerves were jittery, and tummies were ready for food! But as Allan – another SWAN teacher – and I worked on singing warm-ups and improv with the students, our minds focused on the music, and this group became a team.

One successful and fun performance later, we returned to our green room for lunch and time to unwind before returning to the schools. During this time, I overheard SWAN Program Director Brooke Beazley ask some students, “Have you two known one another a long time?”

Looking over, I noticed two of our students from different schools – Ryan and Kariel – sitting with each other, laughing and talking. No wonder Brooke had asked. They seemed like old friends, getting along so quickly and well!

“No, we’ve never met.”

While this situation would be sweet in any context, it’s such a significant victory for SWAN teachers to see. Working with kids affected by parental incarceration means we know we’re working with kids who’ve had their trust broken, their worlds rocked, and more than their fair share of trauma and hardship. Trust issues run deep, and one of our main hopes for class time is to build trust and teamwork. So to see Kariel and Ryan hit it off and find a friend in each other provided so much encouragement to the SWAN staff.

This is only one story of the friendships that formed that day. The students shared books, sang songs, and forged comradery during this experience, and that will never lose its beauty- no matter how often I witness it in this program. These stories remind us why we do what we do, and it’s one of the tangible results of music’s healing power in our students’ lives.

By: Sarah Ziegler