TJ Howard is only 12 years old, but that has not stopped him from chasing his dreams of being a rock star. He has found his groove at Texas Virtual Academy (TXVA).
TJ performs multiple times a month near his hometown of Cypress, Texas, and other gigs around the country, including Milwaukee’s Summerfest and Chicago’s Lincoln Hall.
This 6th grader joined TXVA in 4th grade when his drumming career first started to take off.
“I had no free time with practicing every day and doing all the homework, and I had no free time after,” TJ said.
While looking for drum lessons, he ended up joining Katy’s School of Rock “Rock 101” program.
Within a year he moved up to its performance group, and within another six months he moved up to the most prestigious group in the School of Rock, the House Band.
“House Band is where you have to try out and they choose 10 kids to perform at special events and promote the School of Rock,” TJ said.
Only 10 years old at the time, TJ became the youngest person ever to join the Katy School of Rock House Band. He beat out others in their late teens for the spot and has taken this special opportunity with great pride.
“I try to at least practice drumming for two hours a day, so anywhere between 12-14 hours a week,” TJ said. “I also have three-hour rehearsals twice a week and a private lesson once a week.”
TJ was around 3 years old when he first started drumming on his toy drum set, which quickly became his favorite thing to play with.
“When kids are little, you always ask them what they want to be when they grow up,” said TJ’s mother, Kylie Howard. “I knew I had a different–than–normal child when his response was ‘a punk rock drummer!’”
His parents gave him his very first professional drum kit at 5 years old after he showed a big interest in the instrument after attending a concert with his parents.
“My parents took me to see a band that they were friends with,” TJ said. “All I could do was watch the drummer. I knew from that moment that that is what I wanted to do.”
Since joining virtual school, he says balancing school work and music is no longer a problem, and Kylie loves that TJ has more time in the day to balance his daily schedule.
“Balancing his music and school was always a challenge until we enrolled in TXVA,” Kylie said. “In brick and mortar school, he would come home, start his homework, practice drums, eat dinner, finish his homework, and go to bed. There would be almost no down time or family time. Nights where he had lessons or band rehearsals would be even worse. He was exhausted, emotional, and burnt out.”
Since enrolling, TJ is able to incorporate his drum practice as part of his school day and as a break from online classes.
“He is able to get a great education and focus on his dreams and aspirations of becoming a drummer,” Kylie said. “This schedule has allowed him to get two or more hours a day of drum practice when before, he was lucky to get 30 minutes. Just being able to balance and individualize what he needs and loves makes it all worth it.”
Joining TXVA not only helped TJ’s musical career but also his love for learning.
“TJ had a very negative, heartbreaking experience with a difficult teacher in the first grade,” Kylie said. “We had such a fun loving, confident kid who couldn’t wait to go to school. When he started having issues with his first grade teacher, it really tore him down and changed him.”
The Howard family decided to move from Colorado to Texas, due in part to TJ’s experiences at school.
“We enrolled him back in brick and mortar when we moved and he slowly began to gain some confidence back,” she said. “When he was halfway through the 4th grade and his drumming really started to take off, we knew that he needed a change, as the school he was at had a lot of behavior issues and academic setbacks that were not benefitting TJ.”
Kylie decided to research some other school options and was drawn to the virtual school layout of TXVA.
“After a ton of research, we decided to give it a try and enrolled in January of 2014,” Kylie said. “We started with the idea that we would try it for a semester and see how it went, then go back to brick and mortar if needed.”
TJ has had nothing but positive experiences and success at TXVA and has not needed to change schools since.
“Needless to say, TJ is now in 6th grade and has maintained straight A’s ever since, while before he was getting B’s and C’s,” Kylie said. “We tell everyone about our successes with TXVA and are happy to have found a program that is so beneficial to him.”
“I like that I can attend with my pajamas on!” T.J. said. “Classes are fun to attend and the teachers are always there for you.”
Kylie says TJ has made her a “rocker mom,” and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I feel like my job as a parent is to give him the tools he needs to accomplish his goals and dreams,” Kylie said. “He is enrolled in lessons and works hard every day to keep improving and getting better. The drive in his eyes makes me firmly believe that he will make it big one day.”
TJ is currently preparing for some upcoming gigs, including a Trunk or Treat event, Austin Music Festival, and Thanksgiving Day Turkey run performance. He will also be returning to Summerfest to perform next summer.