In the Newhall School District (NSD), more than 1,000 students participate in some form of music education.
From orchestra to chorus, children in all 10 of the district’s schools are supported by dedicated music teachers and an inexhaustible Parent Teacher Association (PTA).
The NSD Music Makers (MM) PTA is not like regular, site-specific parent organizations focused on general school funding; instead, Music Makers directs its attention to all of the district’s schools to solely support the success and growth of each site’s music program.
“I like to call them preservers of a sacred trust,” NSD Superintendent Paul Cordeiro said. “The people who are the parents involved understand the historic nature of the music program and Music Maker’s influence.”
In its nearly 40 years of operations, MM PTA has championed the growth of elementary education, second grade ukulele lessons, third grade recorder instruction and fourth, fifth and sixth grade chorus and orchestra classes.
The “small, but mighty” group of 14 handles everything from parking issues to T-shirt sales to achieve the non-profit’s goal of providing every child with the opportunity to explore music.
“Music Makers ensures that all of these opportunities exist,” said Tara Speiser, an NSD orchestra teacher who has been with the district for more than 20 years. “We’ve been allowed to expand because of very supportive administrations and school boards, and a committed group of parents that continue to invest in this.”
History of Music Makers
Nearly 40 years ago, Music Makers was fashioned more like a booster club to aid the district’s efforts surrounding music education.
“It came out of the woodwork to assist the music department,” Speiser said.
Then, volunteers were doing the same thing they are now: selling T-shirts, fundraising, advocating for the arts and preparing for concerts.
“At certain times in our history Music Makers was the formal organization that wanted to keep the music education together,” Speiser said. “It ensured its (music education’s) existence as well as enhanced it.”
Throughout the years, Music Makers has taken a different shapes based on those involved, but it has continued its tradition to support all schools within the district.
“What other school district has a PTA for music education?” Cordeiro said. “It’s been in existence for a long time and it’s certainly survived the test of time.”
About a decade ago, the organization, with help from current NSD Governing Board President Sue Solomon, gained its non-profit status and began receiving recognition in the community for its work.
“It is clear as far as its importance,” Cordeiro said. “It’s become almost a signature program.”
MM PTA Today
In a district of nearly 4,000 enrolled students, only 14 parents and teachers sit on this year’s MM PTA.
Despite their small size, Music Makers’ members are proud of the work they do together.
“We’re a small group and we really work together,” said Adrienne Platt, president of MM PTA. “The longer we work together, the smoother it gets. We have a lot of fun and it’s enjoyable.”
Each member joined the group because of their love of their children and their appreciation for music education.
“I feel passionate about connecting music teachers and our schools,” parent volunteer Natasha Marchewka-Helmer said. “My goal, at least for this year, is to let everyone know to connect the dots and support the music PTA because it is small and needy and worthy.”
Today, the Music Makers corrals students at concerts, sells snacks and spirit wear at events, organizes additional parent volunteers and funds additional education items.
The organization is also continuously looking for ways to get more parents involved in the organization and as volunteers at school concerts.
“There is a place for everyone,” Platt said. “It’s a great thing to be a part of and support.”
Brandon Valerino, a K-3 music and chorus teacher at five district schools, said he and his fellow teachers could not put on the quality of concerts they do without the physical and monetary support from MM PTA.
“How could we five people corral that many kids as well as sell T-shirts and talk with parents?” he said. “It wouldn’t happen.”
Music Education in NSD
In the Newhall School District, music opportunities are available for all children in all grade levels, beginning with the classroom music program in kindergarten.
“General music education is a launching point for kids to explore the basics of music,” Cordeiro said.
At this level, students sing, read rhythms, play instruments and learn about famous composers.
“The earlier this process starts then the easier it is to develop later on,” said Jana Gruss, a music and chorus teacher who has been with the district for 28 years.
When students reach third grade they participate in a “Petting Zoo.” Unlike the traditional petting zoo that includes bunnies and goats, this petting zoo contains all of the woodwind, brass and string instruments available for students to play.
“At the petting zoo they test the instruments, and touch them and figure out which instruments they want to play,” Gruss said.
The students then meet during school hours to practice and prepare for performances.
“At the elementary level, we do encourage kids to try different instruments,” said John Hester, a NSD orchestra teacher. “Some try wind then string then percussion.”
Hester said there is a level for every kid of musician: beginner, intermediate, advanced and featured artist for those who are of “extraordinary talent.”
In total, the music department has 950 instrument players and 740 choral members.
Overall, Cordeiro and members of Music Makers believe that the focus on music education and the growth of the program are what contribute the success of the district’s students throughout their education career.
“I often am curious to where our academic achievement would be without a music program,” Cordeiro said. “We’re really proud of the leaders of Music Makers and their volunteers and the way they collaborate with the music teachers.”
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