Santa Rosa to buy over 1,500 instruments for music program expansion

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More elementary school students will discover the plucky strum of ukuleles and the soft hum of flutes next fall as Santa Rosa City Schools expands its music blitz program.

The program rolled out in August, loaning brass, woodwind and string instruments to sixth-graders, who could take the instruments home and use them during class.

The district received just over $1 million from the California Department of Education last week to add fourth- and fifth-graders to the program by next fall.

As schools struggle with limited funds, dwindling enrollment and wildfire impacts, arts programs are often one of the first items on the chopping block. But access to a musical instruments at home and school creates greater equity, district officials said.

“There are countless studies about the positive impact of being able to study and play music at any age. Our goal in this is to make sure every student has that opportunity,” said Erik Ohlson, district music teacher.

About 80 percent of the $1,038,102 grant will be used to purchase instruments and materials. The rest of the funds will be for teacher training and setting up infrastructure for the program, including an inventory system and music resource room.

Ohlson helped create a budget for 1,554 new instruments, which includes 252 guitars, 252 ukuleles, 392 woodwinds (flutes, clarinets, saxophones), 350 string instruments (violins, violas, cellos) and 308 brass (trumpets, trombones, baritones, tubas).

“Previously only students who had the time or ability to stay after school could participate in band or instrumental music,” said Anna-Maria Guzman, assistant superintendent of Teaching & Learning. “Having instruction during the school day, and hundreds of instruments to lend, creates greater access and equity.”

The district employs seven music teachers who teach at nine elementary schools under the blitz model, which sends four district teachers to one school site during classroom teachers’ prep time.

Sixth-graders are divided into groups by the class of instruments they play. The state grant does not fund new personnel, but the district is hiring a teacher for the music blitz program.

New curriculum will likely be added in the program expansion, including “Jump right in,” which encourages sound before sight, or playing music before reading it.

“It’s a little specialized and has a different approach,” Ohlson said.

Ohlson is in the midst of organizing high school ensembles, bands and orchestras to perform at the district’s nine traditional elementary schools by the end of January. The performances will serve as outreach to third- and fourth-graders who will enroll in the music blitz program next fall.

“We hope to get them excited to sign up next year,” Ohlson said.

The Windsor Unified School District also received a $1.7 million grant from the state Department of Education last week for an elementary-focused visual and performing arts initiative, according to Allison Frenzel, Windsor High School dance teacher and program coordinator.

There is a nine-month window to spend the grant, and staff will meet soon to assess the grant budget, Frenzel said.

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