For as long as he can remember, Curtis James Ruckey’s life has been filled with music. His sisters sang in school musicals, and he sang with his local church choir. When Curtis, or CJ as most people call him, was in fifth grade, his sister began taking guitar lessons. CJ was immediately drawn to the instrument, and his sister taught him a few chords. In middle school, CJ received free guitar lessons and picked up other techniques from watching YouTube videos. Even though his passion and performing continued in high school, he decided in his junior year that he needed to put down his guitar to devote more time to school work.
That all changed when CJ was approached by Windsor Locks High School substitute teacher Mike Gagliardi, who asked CJ to consider collaborating on a song he was writing. CJ gave it a try and after just one session of hearing and playing with Gagliardi, he wrote a new verse and chorus for the song. Gagliardi mentioned this collaboration to Windsor Locks Public Schools Transitions & Pathways Coordinator Allison Nelson, and she told CJ that he could actually earn school credit for this project through the district’s Experiential Learning Opportunity (ELO) initiative. This initiative creates multiple opportunities for students to engage in personalized learning connected to career interests through internships, apprenticeships, and the like.
With the support of his academic advisor, CJ created a “learning pathway” allowing him to achieve certain academic standards through pursuing his interest in music. He and Gagliardi collaborated on an additional song and, working with a professional sound engineer in New York, produced and mixed the two songs which are now available online on Soundcloud under CJ’s recording artist name Curtis James. CJ and Gagliardi are currently working on a video to accompany one of the songs, providing CJ the expanded opportunity to learn about video production and editing.
“This whole experience has been like a dream, to be given the opportunity to do something I am passionate about,” said CJ, who will be taking music theory classes as part of his course work as a student at Manchester Community College next fall. “Getting to develop new skills in writing and recording music and getting school credit for it is something I am truly grateful for. This experience has shown me that there are opportunities out there to work in a field that I am truly interested in.”
Many other Windsor Locks students will now be given the opportunity to pursue their own interests in potential careers as part of a $270,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. The grant is a continuation of work the Hartford Foundation has supported as Windsor Locks seeks to leverage parent, school and community partnerships to create personalized learning pathways for students.
“This generous gift has propelled us to the next level to make personalized learning pathways a reality in Windsor Locks, and make academic excellence a reality for all our students,” said Windsor Locks Public Schools Superintendent Susie Bell.
In addition to the experiential learning opportunity CJ was afforded, Windsor Locks has been working hard to forge relationships with town businesses, agencies, organizations, and regional institutions of higher education to increase opportunities for internships, apprenticeships, and anytime/anywhere learning opportunities.
According to Bell, this grant will assist the district in achieving its vision that all graduating students master rigorous 21st century standards using a personalized learning plan that students develop with district staff.
“The Hartford Foundation is excited to continue this partnership with Windsor Locks Public Schools as they embark on this next level of systemic change and systems-building,” said Susan Bruckner, Senior Education Investments Officer at the Foundation. “This year’s focus on developing authentic family, school, and community partnerships in pursuit of student learning success is what our strategic investments in education are all about.”
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding communities. In 2015, the Foundation celebrated 90 years of grantmaking in the Greater Hartford region, made possible by the gifts of generous individuals, families, and organizations. It has awarded grants of more than $630 million since its founding in 1925. For more information about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, visit www.hfpg.org or call 860-548-1888.