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Eleven-year-old Anaylin Suarez hopes to play “Happy Birthday” on the violin someday.

Her wish may soon come true. The Luther Burbank Elementary student received a violin Thursday thanks to a new Santa Rosa City Schools music program aimed at exposing more sixth-graders to instruments.

“I’m excited to practice,” said Suarez, who also hopes to learn “Havana” by Camila Cabello.

The new program provides hundreds of sixth-graders in Sonoma County’s largest district an hour a week of music lessons during school time. Students also get to take the instruments home to practice.

The program was rolled out this August at all of the district’s nine elementary schools.

The schools over the years have offered music classes. Previously, though, students in before- and after-school programs were typically the only ones provided with instruments to take home.

“If you needed a bus, you were out of luck. If you needed to walk your younger sibling home, you were out of luck,” said Elizabeth Northrup, one of the district’s music teachers.

Erik Ohlson, another district music teacher, said before this year’s program started the opportunity for students to learn an instrument was inequitable.

“The biggest push for this is inclusivity and availability,” said Ohlson, who also serves as the Montgomery High School band director.

Ohlson suggested the blitz model, bringing four district music teachers to school sites during classroom teachers’ prep time. The music teachers divide all the sixth-graders at a site into groups by whichever class of instrument they play — woodwinds, strings or brass.

The district owns about 450 instruments and didn’t have to purchase more for the program. However, a couple of additional teachers were hired, said Ohlson, who hopes the program will expand to other grades in the future.

Students spent the first four weeks of school learning about their choice of instruments.

“They get to hold it; they get to play it. They get to make a noise, and they just kind of say what does this do, how does this work?” Ohlson said.

Students then wrote down their top instrument choices. Most of the 60 Luther Burbank sixth-graders got their first or second pick, Northrup said.

When violins, trombones, saxophones, flutes and clarinets were being handed out one by one Thursday, the kids sat on the floor and chattered amongst themselves in anticipation. They then divided up into groups and opened their instrument boxes.

Emmanuel Leon, 10, tried out different sounds on his new clarinet.

“It looked interesting, and I’ve never played an instrument before,” Leon said, smiling.

During music class he sat next to his friend, Roberto Reyes, 11, who chose the flute.

“I liked the flute as a little kid,” said Reyes, who already knows how to play two other instruments, including the guitar.

While students were in their weekly music session, Luther Burbank sixth-grade teacher Ross Hause had his prep time. He said students benefit by music lessons spilling into other subjects, such as mathematics. It brings to life other school subjects, he said.

The music classes also provide students with adult role models, he said.

“We’re here to build interesting kids,” Hause said.

Alexandra Robinson, one of the four music teachers in the program, was hired this year. She led the woodwinds class Thursday, where students were quick to assemble their flutes and clarinets.

Robinson started learning the violin when she was in fourth grade, and it propelled her career as a musician and music teacher. Starting an instrument at a young age can have lifelong impacts, she said.

“I just love seeing the students get really excited,” Robinson said. “It’s just something new. It’s like a present.”

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or susan.minichiello@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @susanmini

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