Spring may be months away, but on Wednesday morning Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) took the next step in fulfilling its mission to “plant seeds for a bright future.” With the opening of a new Orchkids site at Highlandtown Elementary/Middle School, the orchestra’s nationally recognized educational initiative now serves nearly 400 students. The Highlandtown Elementary/Middle School is the program’s first expansion to reach the East Baltimore community, joining three other sites established in West Baltimore— Mary Ann Winterling Elementary School, Lockerman Bundy Elementary School and New Song Academy.
Students at Highlandtown Elementary/Middle School, located near Patterson Park, come from a variety of cultural/ethnic backgrounds and currently represent thirteen countries; the area is home to a growing population of Hispanic and Latino families.
The year-round during and after-school music program was designed to create social change and nurture promising futures for youth in Baltimore City neighborhoods. Amidst the challenges that many inner city schools face, Orchkids strives “to create a pathway for successful learning through meaningful educational and cultural experiences.”
“Since coming to Baltimore, one of my priorities has been to create a school program that combines music and mentorship to have a positive impact on Baltimore City youth,” says Alsop. “I believe passionately that music has the power to change lives and the BSO should lead the movement.”
By providing a strong foundation and developing the whole individual, Alsop believes the program can position these students for lifelong success—“success not limited to music, but in all areas of their lives.”
For those who underestimate the importance of music education The Center of Education Policy offers this statement: “A child's education is not complete unless it includes the arts. A comprehensive strategy for a complete education includes rigorous, sequential arts instruction in the classroom, as well as participation and learning in available community-based arts programs.
“I commend Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for their work creating a program that cares for the whole child: stimulating our youth both academically and socially and providing an avenue for creative expression,” said Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Andres Alonso. “With this expansion to Highlandtown, OrchKids continues to deepen its roots in our schools and extend its positive impact in Baltimore’s communities.”
With assistance from The Family League of Baltimore City and the University of Maryland Baltimore County, the BSO has implemented several assessment tools to track if OrchKids participants are achieving social, academic and musical outcomes. All schools will benefit from a three-year commitment of $90,000 worth of instruments and support from Maryland-based Music & Arts, a band and orchestra instrument retailer and lesson provider.
Under OrchKids Director of Artistic Programming Dan Trahey, students receive classroom music instruction during the school day and in after-school sessions five days a week from 3:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. A typical after-school session includes classroom music instruction, group instrument lessons, tutoring assistance and a nutritious meal.
OrchKids attend BSO concerts, visit local cultural destinations and perform throughout the city regularly. Alsop says “I truly believe that every child is born a genius, filled with endless possibility. We must have high expectations for children and as long as we have high expectations and believe they can achieve, they will. They'll step up to the plate each and every time.”
The OrchKids program is inspired by Venezuela’s El Sistema, the music program that in 30 years has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in that country’s most impoverished areas. Like El Sistema, OrchKids is intended primarily to address the most pervasive social challenges affecting underserved youth, using music to cultivate fundamental life skills such as self-expression, cooperative learning, discipline and creativity.
Jayne Matthews works in higher education development and is an academic