CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Mary Withers started her new job at Shady Spring Middle School in Raleigh County this year, there were 21 students in her band class.
After receiving an infusion of new instruments from the VH1 Save The Music Foundation in September, enrollment shot up to 57.
Now Withers has a new problem -- finding a room big enough to handle all of her students.
"That's been a challenge," Withers said.
Shady Spring Middle was one of 11 schools in West Virginia to get $30,000 worth of new instruments apiece this year from the nonprofit foundation, which began working in schools across the country in 1997.
West Virginia became the first entire state embraced by the foundation. The goal is to bring instruments to at least one public elementary or middle school in every county.
The foundation is more than one-fourth of the way to its goal. So far, schools in 15 of West Virginia's 55 counties have been helped.
Another strong effort is planned in 2012.
"I think we've got good things to do," said Rob Davidson, the foundation's program director. "We're getting there. This past year we were able to step it up quite a bit. I'm hoping to do a similar number, if not more, next year."
Save The Music has provided $48 million in new musical equipment and helped programs in 1,800 schools in more than 100 communities nationwide. To be eligible, schools must have an instrumental music teacher and provide music instruction.
In West Virginia, schools have been equipped in Brooke, Doddridge, Hampshire, Lincoln, Mingo, Marshall, Ohio, Pendleton, Pleasants, Pocahontas, Raleigh, Randolph, Tucker, Wetzel and Wood counties.
The foundation tries to raise half of the necessary funds on the local level and half nationally -- "both a commitment from our part to raise money toward the project and have the community buy in and help the schools as well," Davidson said.
Among the sponsors are Chesapeake Energy, Charleston's Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences, the state Division of Culture and History, the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and individual and family-foundation contributions.
At Shady Spring Middle, the band program was on the verge of collapse last school year after the former director left.
"They were pretty much down to nothing," Withers said. "The students here really have a difficult time in coming up for money for instruments."
They didn't have to this year. The Save The Music Foundation donated new Yamaha instruments including 13 clarinets, eight flutes, eight trumpets, five saxophones, three trombones, a snare and bass drum and a set of bells.
Most of Withers' new students are sixth graders. For now, due to the smallish size of the band room, she meets with her students separately by grade level, including before and after school with seventh and eighth graders.
The new instruments have enabled the students to conduct six performances, including a parade in Beckley and a breakfast with Santa event at a local elementary school.
Withers agrees with the notion that music engages kids in school.
"For some of these kids, it's the only thing that brings them to school. I'm living that right now." Withers said. "It's amazing to think we have that much positive influence, it's almost kind of scary. And the fact that when they realize how important it is for them to be here to deal with the concerts and the performances that we do, it makes them come in and deal with the rest of their schoolwork too. It makes them work harder."
Davidson works closely with state Division of Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, whose knowledge of local funding sources has been fruitful. Of the foundation's 50 grants doled out nationally this year, more than one-fifth were done in West Virginia. The schools being targeted next year have yet to be decided.
After the foundation gets a foothold in every county, Davidson said the long-range goal is to put instruments and musical equipment in every West Virginia elementary and middle school where they're needed.
"It's been amazing," Davidson said. "I still can't get over how warmly we've been welcomed in West Virginia and so far how easy it's really been to work with everyone. Everyone understands the value of music education. Everyone wants to have it for the students. It's just a question of resources and making things happen."