In 2013, 6-year-old Andi decided she wanted to learn to play the drums.
"Andi wanted to play the guitar. She decided she wanted to play the guitar and I was like, 'Hey, go for it,'" said her mom, Robin Coley-Nickels. "She's super shy, she's super introverted, so I thought this would be a great opportunity for her."
Boise Rock School was bringing music clinics to the kids in the juvenile detention program, where Coley-Nickels works.
"And we came here and then she decided she wanted to learn the drums," Coley-Nickels added. "And so we came here just to try it out and she did drum class and she was put in a band."
The Ferocious Donuts, comprising two girls and two boys, practices every week and performs all over Boise. Andi has been with the band since she started at Boise Rock School.
Andi is just one of thousands of kids who have had a chance to learn to play music and be a part of a team since Boise Rock School opened 10 years ago. The idea came from friends Ryan Peck and Jared Goodpaster.
"I went on a run, and I got back, and I was like, "Hey we should do this," not really knowing what it would look like, but just knowing that we wanted to do something that offered a different type of musical education experience," Peck said. "And that was going to be band based; that was important to us. Because we were both educators, we wanted it to be from that perspective."
Ryan Peck has been an adjunct instructor in anatomy and physiology at Boise State University for more than a decade, and Jared Goodpaster had been teaching at high schools around the area. He had just received his Master's in Curriculum and Instruction and was student teaching—and both he and Peck were musicians who regularly played around town.
"I was thinking about my experience growing up and not starting playing music until I was older. I didn't start playing guitar until I was 18 or 19. I just never really had access to a lot of equipment," Peck said. "I played guitar and did piano lessons but I really didn't have access to this... being able to form a band seemed like such a foreign thought to me. So on one hand, I was trying to address something from my own childhood and make that better. So I called Jared and said, 'Hey, we should do this.'"
Goodpaster had a similar experience. He didn't learn to play music until he was in college. That was an important motivation to how Boise Rock School formed its curriculum.
"I am self-taught on guitar, but there were certain things that just became really clear to me. Like 'Man, if there was some way we could translate that to kids, they could start learning a lot quicker,'" Goodpaster said. "There was just no regular program for kids to learn how to play contemporary music. So he called me one day and goes, 'What if we took a bunch of our friends that are parents and took their kids and had them do a camp for a week and see if we can get them to play a gig.'"
In that first camp, they wanted to see if they could take kids who were complete beginners and form a band within two weeks. At the end of that first camp they put on a concert, and found out the format actually worked.
Goodpaster had been teaching at Koelsch Elementary School, and the principal allowed them to use the school for their first camp. That first camp included just five kids, and none of them had played music before that week. And then it expanded from there into an after-school program. Foothills Private School loaned them a classroom after hours, and the school quickly expanded from five students to 15.
"We're learning to navigate the pitfalls of different personalities and different ages, different skill levels, all those things," Peck said. "So we got to that, and then we did a gig for the Special Olympics that year in 2009. So we did it and the kids were great. It was a learning experience, but ultimately it was really awesome. [We] folded that into a few more kids and then that summer, 2009, we rolled it into a couple more camps."
Over the next few years, they held classes at Koelsch, Foothills School and a Methodist Church in the North End. After about five years of holding classes in different places around town, they found their current location at 14th and Idaho streets in Boise.
The official mission of Boise Rock School is to teach kids to play music, but according to Peck, it's more than just that.
"Our mission is bands," Peck added. "That's like the be-all, end-all rule for us. We really think the value of kids playing in bands can't be replicated. So we work hard to push kids to that programming."
The band experience teaches students to creatively express themselves in front of a group of people, and that instills values like communication, compromise and respecting a teammate's opinion, even if they don't agree.
"The other is this idea of this 'fail, fail, fail, succeed' experience. So when kids start to play music, and when I say kids I'm referring to when anyone starts to play music, it's hard," Peck said. "There's a learning curve, and it's a struggle, and you're like 'Oh man, I'm trying to play guitar and my fingers hurt, I sound terrible, what am I doing, I should not do this.' And you're failing at it. But through persistence and resilience, you eventually get to a spot where you sound OK. That success, that lesson you just had, that 'fail, fail, fail, succeed' thing, that same resilience is what will create entrepreneurship, and is what builds really resilient people. So there's a value there."
Every 12 weeks the school puts on a big concert where all their bands play, which Peck and Goodpaster feel is a critical piece of the puzzle "because the kids are now learning this 'fail, fail, fail, succeed' thing in front of people," Peck said.
The five kids at Boise Rock School's first clinic are now in their 20s, and some of those first students now teach at the school. Over the years, Boise Rock School has worked with thousands of students. It has classes for regular students, but it also runs after-school outreach programs where instructors go to schools and other organizations, including the Boise Veteran's Administration Community Living Center, St. Luke's Children's Hospital School, Ada County Juvenile Corrections Detention Center, Cherry Gulch Boarding School, Montessori Academy, Anser Charter School, Ikastola Preschool and Giraffe Laugh Preschool. They also do programming a few times a year with the Treasure Valley YMCA, Stanley Idaho School, all Boise Libraries, Caldwell Library, Meridian Library, TrICA, Agri-Beef and Stanley Idaho School.
"We see probably 40 to 60 kids weekly for our outreach," Peck said, adding that their after-school program serves around 400 students each week.
The school also does a free camp each summer, where they try to target kids who may not have a chance to attend otherwise, including many in underprivileged communities.
"The first year we did a free camp, we had this group, they were these Nepalese refugees and they spoke very little English," Peck said. "And through music they were able to turn these Nepalese work chants that they had into these big riff rock songs, like AC/DC kind of rock songs. And I think of that as being a really cool moment when I realized, 'Wow, it's not always what you think it's going to be.' They're still playing rock music, but the way we got there is so cool and really innovative and crossing cultural boundaries and crossing language barriers."
Boise Rock School is changing and growing. It is looking to create an all-ages venue in town, and to do that they are forming a non-profit organization.
"We are going to be doing a capital campaign to raise some money to buy a permanent building and have a permanent all-ages space," Peck said. "We recognize that one of the biggest puzzle pieces missing in Boise is the lack of an all-ages venue that is largely driven by other kids (kids being 13- to 24-year-olds)."
"And that's an economic question for us," he added. "We talked about this, thinking about the 'fail, fail, fail, succeed' experience that musicians and bands have. What better way to build a generation of great entrepreneurs that can help make the local economy a little more robust and increase the strength of the economic ecosystem of Boise? So that's the big picture. And then I think we'll start to expand our class offerings to include other digital media arts, other important pieces of the puzzle. Writing and recording, graphic design, filmmaking."
Boise Rock School started as an idea to bring music and teamwork to a small group of people, but has since grown across the city. There are thousands of individual stories, and kids who are taking the skills they have learned and using them in the rest of their lives. As for Andi, she's 12 now, and still plays with the Ferocious Donuts.
"She's completely different," Coley-Nickels said. "She is starting junior high next year and she's going to be in theater. Which she would never have been in theater, not ever. And she still plays the drums, she loves it. She's still shy, but she's definitely got that performer in her."