Holiday Spirit

Folk dance teacher Michel Hardbarger, center, teaches students from Los Robles Magnet Academy in East Palo Alto the steps to a line dance to Israeli folk dance song "Hineh Ma Tov", as part of the Music in the Schools program. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Posted December 7, 2018

Making music a priority
Music in the Schools is instrumental in bringing free music classes to Ravenswood

by Karla Kane

On a drizzly December afternoon, more than 25 children gathered in the cafeteria/gymnasium at Los Robles Magnet Academy in East Palo Alto. With rapt attention they shook their arms, clapped their hands and stretched their necks and shoulders to the ever-accelerating tempo of the Ghanaian call-and-response song "Che Che Kule." Moving to the African rhythms was a warm up for their weekly international folk dance class, a new, free, after-school program offered by Music in the Schools Foundation.

"Would everyone find a partner? We're going to make a giant circle," instructor Michel Hardbarger, who leads the class with a gentle, calming presence, said to her group of elementary school children. To the sounds of Israeli music, the dancers took turns spinning with their partners, mimicking a dreidel, in honor of Hanukkah.

When the classes first started, Hardbarger recalled with a laugh, the kids were reluctant to partner up and hold hands. "I tell them, 'You don't have to bring them home with you. It's just a dance!'"

As the hour-long class went on, the choreography increased in complexity, with the children dutifully mouthing the directions along with Hardbarger as they worked on step sequences, pivots and more.

"They're not just learning dance but also about other cultures and each other," Program Director Kyle Sofman said of the successful pilot program, which keeps gaining members through word of mouth.

Though international folk dance is a new offering this year, along with a percussion class for eighth-graders who might otherwise have been left out of their school's music curriculum, Music in the Schools has been providing free general and specialized music classes to students in the Ravenswood City School District for more than 20 years. It currently serves more than 500 children in preschool through eighth grade at four sites in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park.

Some of their classes are offered during school, "filling in the gaps," as Sofman put it, between the chronically underfunded district's own music courses. Others are offered as free after-school enrichment, something much needed in a district where some parents work long hours and students often stay on campus until 6 p.m. The overall goal is to ensure that all Ravenswood students receive music instruction that meets or exceeds California State Visual and Performing arts (VAPA) standards. Students also get opportunities to perform for the community, helping to build their self-esteem while they reap the artistic, social and cognitive benefits of arts education.

Most Music in the Schools instructors have several teaching gigs to make ends meet (local luminaries on the team include Thomas Shoebotham, director of the Palo Alto Philharmonic). The nonprofit's teachers also sometimes take on multiple types of classes within the program. Hardbarger, for example, at the request of students, has led a ukulele club for fourth- and fifth-graders at Willow Oaks.

Keeping things going, though, is an ongoing struggle, even though the foundation doesn't operate from a central office, which helps keep costs down.

A $5,000 grant received from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund in 2018 came at an especially critical time, as the program recently lost several important sources of funding, including the Peery Foundation, the Palo Alto Community Fund grants and the Ravenswood City School District itself because of continued financial instability in the district (in 2015-16, the district provided $40,000).

"We've lost a lot of funding, and we still have to pay teachers and maintain instruments. Our money comes from the kindness of donors, and we are grateful for every penny we get," Sofman said.

At the same time as the folk dance class at Las Robles, in a music room across the quad, the after-school beginning strings ensemble was working on a Suzuki piece. Students on cellos, violas and violins rehearsed under the enthusiastic, high-energy guidance of experienced teacher Shelly Monarez. As they rehearsed, she accompanied them on piano, calling out tips — "Feet flat on the floor! Your violin goes on your shoulder!" — and shouting encouragement.

The program not only gives students high-quality lessons in music but, like the dance class, offers lessons in arts diversity.

"The strings teacher incorporates music from a variety of cultures too. It's important for these kids to know their cultures matter — it's not just (by) a bunch of dead white guys," Sofman said.

Toward the end of the lesson, Monarez asked the group, which has only been meeting since October, to try playing along to a recording.

"That was so fun!" one young violinist exclaimed afterward.

Monarez beamed: "Wasn't it, though?"

Sofman and the rest of the Music in the Schools team are making hopeful plans for the future. Sofman said she would love to start a choir, which, as she pointed out, is quite cost efficient since not much equipment is needed. She'd also like to see the popular folk dance program expanded to other sites and/or other times so that more children could have access to it.

Back in the dance class, the kids wrapped things up with an Israeli song about jungle animals, which involved mimicking the slithering motion of a snake. Though the class was originally intended for second-to-fifth graders, a few first-graders have since joined and seem to be keeping up just fine.

"Just do the best you can," Hardbarger told the newest members of the group. She paused and smiled. "And have a good time!"

Apply for a Holiday Fund Grant

Nonprofits serving children and families may apply for funds by downloading our Grant Application Guidelines and Grant Application Form. Application deadline: 11:59 p.m. on Friday, January 13, 2023.

Make a donation
2022 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy$10,000

AbilityPath$10,000

Able Works$10,000

Ada's Cafe$25,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7,500

Art in Action$10,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
of the Bay Area
$10,000

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000

Canopy$5,000

CASA of San Mateo County$5,000

Children's Health Council$10,000

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto$5,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto$10,000

Counseling and Support Services for Youth - CASSY$15,000

DreamCatchers$15,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation$10,000

East Palo Alto Charter School$5,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring$15,000

East Palo Alto YMCA$10,000

Eastside College
Preparatory School
$7,500

EPACENTER$10,000

Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education
$10,000

Fresh Approach$10,000

Friends for Youth$5,000

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo$10,000

Heart and Home Collaborative$10,000

Hope Horizon East Palo Alto$7,500

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000

Kara$15,000

Learning Home Volunteers$10,000

Live In Peace$10,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$10,000

Mannakin Theater & Dance$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Midpen Media Center$7,500

Music in the Schools Foundation$8,000

My New Red Shoes$5,000

New Voices for Youth$5,000

Pacific Art League of Palo Alto$12,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation$10,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care $30,000

Palo Alto Players$10,000

Peer Point$20,000

Peninsula Bridge$10,000

Peninsula College Fund$10,000

Peninsula Healthcare Connection$10,000

Peninsula Volunteers$15,000

Peninsula Youth Theatre$5,000

Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship Foundation$20,000

Ravenswood Classroom Partners$20,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation$10,000

Reading Partners
Silicon Valley
$10,000

ReadySetExcel$5,000

Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)
$5,000

Rich May Foundation$5,000

Rise Together Education$10,000

Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Sager Family Farm$5,000

Silicon Valley
Urban Debate League
$7,500

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000

TheatreWorks$5,000

UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)$10,000

WeHOPE$15,000

WomenSV$7,500

Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center
$10,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000


As of December 7th, 165 donors have contributed $145,397 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

24 Anonymous7,075
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Maureen O'Connor150
Martha Shirk1,200
Jennifer DiBrienza & Jesse Dorogusker1,000
Diane and Brandy Sikic*
Alicia Newman100
Dorsey & Katherine Bass300
Edie Kirkwood1,000
Micri & Bob Cardelli*
George & Betsy Young*
Diana Diamond1,000
Brigid Barton 2,000
Korol Family250
Lawrence R. Yang & Jennifer W. Kuan10,000
Anthony & Susan Wood25,000
Lynn and Andrew Newman*
Katherine Bryant100
Barbara Riper*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Carolyn Caddes*
Kroymann Family250
Marian Adams100
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Elaine Hah1,500
Retired*
Julie & Dan Lythcott-Haims250
Tess & Eric Byler150
Denise and Jeff Simons*
Keith and Linda Clarke*
Harriet Benson10,000
Arthur Keller250
Cynthia Costell100
George & Betsy Bechtel200
Ellen M. Lillington200
Tom & Nancy Fiene200
Tom & Patricia Sanders*
Amado & Deborah Padilla250
Margo Sensenbrenner*
Merele McClure250
Joanne Koltnow400
Christina Kenrick1,000
Richard Johnsson5,000
Xiaofan Lin100
Bonnie and Bryan Street*
Thomas Rindfleisch*
Jody Maxmin*
Diane and Joe Rolfe*
Diane Finkelstein250
Linda & Steve Boxer*
David & Betsy Fryberger400
Jan Aarts*
Judith Appleby300
Donald Barr150
Charles & Barbara Stevens*
Edward Kanazawa300
Karen A. Latchford*
Kingsley Jack250
Richard Zuanich150
Patti Yanklowitz and Mark Krasnow100
Denise Savoie and Darrell Duffie*
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumbartner*
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Barbara Klein*
Dorothy Deringer200
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Scottie Zimmerman100
Fran Codispoti250
Ted & Ginny Chu*
The Dong Family200
Bill Reller*
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Janis Ulevich*
Theradep Technologies500
Jack and Susan Thomas*
Julie and Jon Jerome*
Andrea B. Smith100
Leif and Sharon Erickson500
The Havern Family5,000
Gwen Luce and Family*
Bruce Campbell*
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Donald Price*
Judy Ousterhout*
Judy Kramer*
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
John Keller100
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
Charlotte Johansen200
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Donna Silverberg100
Paul & Jane Millman250
In Memory Of

Walter Dean*
Er-Ying and Y.C. Yen250
Jack Sutorius750
Michele Wilson*
Bob Donald350
Leonard Ware*
Robert Spinrad100
August King*
Bob Simoni500
David W. Mitchell*
Paul Seaver*
Gerald Berner300
Ian Halliday250
Ray Bacchetti300
Marie and Don Snow200
Andre Jones *
Jim and Dottie Mellberg*
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
David Sager100
Ted Linden200
Lily & Philip Gottheiner150
Chet Brown*
Phil Zschokke200
Nellie Perna Bartello100
Bob Donald*
Steven T. Ross100
In Honor Of

Marilyn Sutorius750
Darla Tupper3,922
Leo & Sylvia Breidenbach and Thomas & Louise Phinney1,000
Polly Caddes*
Joe Simitian*
Gabby Perez & Logan Marsh250
Dr Ron Radzilowski*
Businesses & Organizations

Angelo Family Foundation 5,000
Palo Alto Business Park*
Hearts & Minds Activity Center75
Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Peery Foundation10,000
Arrillaga Foundation10,000

Past Holiday Fund Grant Recipients

2018-2019 | 2017-2018 | 2016-2017 | 2015-2016 | 2014-2015 | 2013-2014 | 2012-2013 | 2011-2012 | 2010-2011 | 2009-2010 | 2008-2009 | 2007-2008 | 2006-2007 | 2005-2006 | 2004-2005 | 2003-2004 | 2002-2003 | 2001-2002 | 2000-2001 | 1999-2000