A desire to give kids a "sense of belonging" in high school is fueling a new push to restore music education in public schools in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park.
Ravenswood City School District Superintendent Gloria Hernandez, who arrived to take the helm last summer, was dismayed to learn that the district's eighth-grade graduates, once they reached Menlo-Atherton High School, were not qualified to join the band program because they lacked a music background.
"Everybody coming into M-A from the other school districts had a minimum of two years of formal music instruction when they came into high school," Hernandez said she was told by high school teachers. "Our students didn't have that.
"I want to ensure that they get that option by offering music as part of our core program and when the students get to sixth grade, that we actually have a band program."
Being part of a band or choir can engage students and "help them want to be in school," Hernandez said.
"When students don't have those opportunities it makes it harder for them to see the value or promise of continuing their education, and that's a big one for us."
Hernandez looked to Music in the Schools Foundation, a small 19-year-old Palo Alto nonprofit, to lend a hand.
For years the group has offered, at no cost to the district, weekly general music classes in some Ravenswood elementary schools, as well as after-school ukulele clubs and violin instruction, with volunteer help from some students in the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra.
"That's really been the only music our students have seen prior to going to high school for all these years," Hernandez said. "Music in the Schools has demonstrated such a commitment to our students."
Hernandez has set aside $150,000 to purchase instruments and consulted with a Menlo-Atherton band instructor and Music in the Schools to help launch a program.
Her long-term goal is to get music into Ravenswood's core elementary curriculum including recorders, rhythm instruments and music-reading instruction and to offer instrumental music in grades six through eight so that students are prepared for high-school band.
The shorter-term goal is to launch a program at one school, Ronald McNair Middle School, by this fall.
"I'm really looking to our long-term partners people who have shown commitment through thick and think to our kids in expanding these programs and going deeper into collaboration for fundraising," Hernandez said.
Music in the Schools board chair Virginia Fruchterman said the group has received new support from the Peery Foundation and the Franklin & Catherine Johnson Foundation for the Ravenswood effort. They also have received an anonymous, $25,000 matching grant for the May 6 "Silicon Valley Gives" campaign through the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
The $150,000 for purchase of instruments "buys enough to get us started," but Music in the Schools also is seeking donated instruments, Fruchterman said.
Fruchterman and Kay Kleinerman, managing director of Music in the Schools, said early music education has countless side benefits for children.
"Music is a way of knowing in the world unlike any other way of knowing," said Kleinerman, whose research has involved the effects of music on the brain. "The brain is hard-wired to learn through music, which is why people with Alzheimer's have memory recollection and can engage in speech through music, when they cannot in the absence of music.
"Even musicians are guilty of saying that music helps kids develop skills in math, English and science which it does but that puts music education in a secondary position, whereas English and math are never put in a secondary position and never have to be justified," she said.