Sometimes, when the Carol City Middle band practices outside, people stop their cars on the side of the road to give Antrell Dirden a thumbs-up and a smile.
Dirden is building a band program at the proud but struggling school after the band dissolved almost a decade ago. The community is taking notice — including the famous.
DJ Khaled, a Grammy award-winning music producer living in Miami, donated $10,000 -worth of new musical instruments to the school this week. Students on Wednesday unpacked drums, practice pads, guitars and microphones and immediately started making music.
“We’re finally becoming a wonderful band,” said Jamara Drayton, a sixth-grade student.
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Khaled pledged to pay for new instruments while visiting the school in January, when Carol City Middle won a national competition for improving school attendance. The school has been on a mission to improve academics and morale after being labeled with an F by the state’s grading system for the last four years.
“There are a lot of things happening here that the accountability formula doesn’t recognize,” said Principal Sonia Romero. “We’re really trying to change the culture of our school and change the perception.”
Helping lead that change is the energetic Dirden, a 25-year educator who some kids call “pop.” The band practices two hours every day after school — even on Fridays. But first, Dirden makes sure his kids all go to tutoring. His room features a board with a line from one of DJ Khaled’s most famous songs: “All we do is win.”
“It’s a lot of positive energy going on in that room,” Dirden said.
Kavon Allen, a sixth-grade student, said his bandmates are “like brothers” who encourage each other to excel at their music and in class. Jaelen Andrews, an eighth-grade student, said he has found his inspiration in the band room.
“Making music is nice. It’s like an inspiration to go to college,” he said, adding that he’d like to become a band instructor.
Dirden said the band is still raising money to pay for new instruments and uniforms. But the help he has already gotten — not just from Khaled, but from parents who pitch in more modestly, however they can — brings Dirden to tears.
“It feels good. I am so appreciative,” he said.
To donate to the Carol City Middle band, visit DonorsChoose.com and search for “Mr. Dirden.”