When the bell rings signaling the end of the day at Mira Vista Elementary School the playground comes alive with the sounds of elementary students pouring out of their classrooms.
The brown portable on the edge of campus, though, is filling up. Laden with backpacks and sweatshirts, children burst through the door, deposit their backpacks and begin pulling folded, metal contraptions — soon to be music stands — out of a box.
Then the cases begin to pop open the instruments come together. Reeds are slipped on, valves are oiled and the room is filled with a cacophony of musical voices.
Students at Mira Vista have the opportunity to participate in band, orchestra and glee club — all after school.
When the West Contra Costa Unified School District cut elementary musical education from the curriculum in 2009, the PTA at Mira Vista decided to bring music back into the classroom, said Paul Allen, the music coordinator at Mira Vista. It was his tenacity that fueled the program’s development.
Allen said since the program’s inception three years ago parent support and children’s participation keep growing.
As a long-time musician himself, Allen says one of the benefits of music is that it exposes children to a variety of different skill sets.
“Learning music is almost like learning a new language in that it’s completely foreign, written text, that if you didn’t know how to read it, weren’t taught how to read it, it would look like Chinese to people that don’t speak Chinese,” he said. “So I think on one hand it opens up a lot of new pathways that help you to learn something new, but it also helps to stimulate creativity in kids that they wouldn’t otherwise get and that can have great benefits too.”
Stephen Bell has been volunteering since the inception of the programs and said what parent volunteers were motivated by large classroom sizes. He said having music programs as an option for students provides a different type of learning environment.
“It’s something you put in front of them and they think they’ll never be able to do that and then they do,” he said. “I think parents and students get a charge out of it and get a sense of pride.”
Band, which has about 35 participants, and orchestra, which has 12, are open to fourth through eighth grade students. Glee club is open to first through eighth grade students and has about 45 participants.
Both band and orchestra work out of a standards book and play a mix of traditional and classical music, Allen said.
Ondine Young, who teaches orchestra and glee club, said with the glee club students she has an opportunity to take what they enjoy — singing pop music — and translate that into skills they can use later in life.
“I’m beginning to teach them hand signals — do, re, me, fa, sol, la, ti — so they can have these tools and maybe do this as a career someday,” she said.
For Allen the payoff comes when the groups perform during winter and spring concerts, where the students’ hard work is showcased for parents and friends to see.
“We feel pretty lucky that we get to provide kids with an opportunity to learn something that is not only fun, but really educational and can benefit them all the way through adulthood,” he said.