After a challenging few years of COVID, Anacapa Middle School’s popular instrumental music program found itself lacking students. Rather than cutting the program, Ventura Unified decided to utilize the opportunity and think outside the box. District administrators worked with Anacapa’s music teacher, Mr. Gabriel Garnett. They had him continue teaching some classes at Anacapa while also starting a pilot program at its local elementary school, Elmhurst Elementary.
“The idea was to have Mr. Garnett continue with his classes and then spend time at Elmhurst in the mornings teaching our fifth-grade students in an attempt to stir up interest, expose more students to music, and share the joy of music but so much more than that occurred,” stated Principal Deanna Baczek. “Students have gained confidence, shown grit, and have demonstrated a growth mindset through this process,” said Baczek.
Students were allowed to choose strings or band and then the opportunity to choose which instrument they would like to play. Parcel Tax Funds earmarked for music education in the Ventura Unified School District were utilized, and instruments and instruction were made available to each fifth-grade student, with many of the instruments on loan from Anacapa Middle School, allowing them to take the instrument home with them to practice in the evenings and on weekends. “Considering they had never picked up these instruments or read music before this class, their improvement is impressive. As a former band participant, I understand the value of music in our students’ lives, and I am extremely appreciative our students were given this opportunity,” stated Baczek.
Every student has continued through the program, even when it seemed too complicated. “While the benefits of learning music are universal, teaching music to students at an early age is noticeably impactful. Elementary students begin to quickly demonstrate more self-control, organization and focus. They are eager to work within a team and are excited to be a part of something where everyone counts. What has surprised me most is that Elmhurst’s music students genuinely want to assist their colleagues in learning and help their teacher help everyone succeed; these young people’s empathy, compassion and team-work are wonderful to work with,” stated Mr. Garnett
Initially, there was concern that the music classes would take away from their fifth-grade classroom time. However, it has proved to do just the opposite. It has given the fifth-grade classroom teachers time to work with students in smaller groups to address areas that need more focus.
Concerning declining enrollment in Anacapa’ s Middle School Music program, it appears that it might have resolved itself with this program. According to Elmhurst’s counselor, all but one of the fifth graders who took part in this pilot program have signed up for music next year at Anacapa. “At this point, we can say with confidence that this pilot program was wildly successful, and it is something that Ventura Unified hopes to continue to have the means to offer its students,” stated Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, Dr. Greg Bayless. “Ventura Unified has always prided itself on finding creative ways to fund music programs for our students. We intend to look for additional avenues to continue these types of opportunities for our students.”