When school districts face tough budget cut choices, the arts seem to be the first to face the chopping block. That was the case 10 years ago when music disappeared from the curriculum at Hermosa Beach schools. But that began to change during this past school year when the Hermosa Beach City School District started a general music course for its first through third grade students.
At last week's Hermosa Beach School Board meeting, the school district unveiled its plans for the next two years to further advance music in school. For the 2017-18 school year, general music will be offered for first through fifth grade students. A fifth grade optional band and a sixth through eighth grade band elective will be added for the 2018-19 school year.
“It's a vital component of creating the whole child and music plays a big part in helping to balance the educational process,” said Joan Perez, director of education services, at last week's meeting.
Music instructor Ken Harrison was recently hired full time to be the music instructor at Hermosa View and Hermosa Valley. He was an instructor for Hermosa Beach Youth Music, a nonprofit that had been keeping music alive for Hermosa Beach students with an after school music program featuring band and chorus.
“The new approach in teaching music nowadays is really letting the students guide the creation of some of the music ... within guidelines,” said Harrison. “It's not the teacher setting expectations of this is what it should be or this is what it should sound like, it's the students experiencing that and through that process they begin to understand when it's good and when it's not and take pride in working and polishing certain things for their performances.”
HBYM was formed in 2012, five years after music was cut from Hermosa Valley.
At May's school board meeting, HBYM founder and boardmember Regina Hoffman said the district has a qualified music teacher in Harrison. HBYM will still offer fifth to eighth grade band and chorus for the 2017-18 school year. The goal of HBYM now is to ensure Hermosa students are as well prepared as students in Manhattan and Redondo to enter the award winning programs at Mira Costa and Redondo Union high schools.
“We are sure he (Harrison) will build a program for all Hermosa Beach kids that everybody will be proud of,” Hoffman said last week. “We look forward to the day when Mira Costa and Redondo Union are coming to Hermosa to find out how we produce such amazing musicians."
HBYM President Meagan Sardana said the new music curriculum is an “incredible gift for our kids.”
“The two biggest barriers for people participating in our after school program are money and vying time with their extracurricular activities,” Sardana said. “You guys took away both barriers. Music is available to every kid in the district.”
Several students spoke at the meeting about the importance of music in their lives.
Mira Costa's Sofia Asiddao said she had few friends before Harrison came into her fifth grade class to recruit students for band.
“Music basically changed my life and I know that sounds pretty drastic, but it is in no way an exaggeration,” Asiddao said. “Without music, I have no idea where I would be today, I would probably have zero friends … now I have 180 new friends through marching band.”
Redondo Union's Olivia Webster said she had the same experience.
“Mr. Harrison brought in a bunch of instruments and he was like, 'Alright does anybody want to be in band? Here are a bunch of instruments you can try it out,'” recalled Webster. “I picked up a flute and I just fell in love with music.”
Webster added, “We pour our blood, sweat and tears into everything we do and it's such a beautiful thing … we know what we want to do with our lives and that's because of Mr. Harrison.”
Instruments will be needed for the new classes, according to Perez.
“We'll be knocking on people's doors and saying, 'Do you have any kids going to college and you want to get rid of their instruments, we need them' … we have to build up an arsenal with instruments and it will take a year.”
Superintendent Pat Escalante said there might be an option for students to rent instruments but they are required by law to provide an instrument for each student. They will be seeking grants and donations as well as support from the Hermosa Beach Education Foundation, which raised funds for Harrison's salary.
Sardana said HBYM is returning more than 20 instruments to the district.
“They will be cleaned and tuned and functioning,” Sardana said. “We are also loaning the district any instruments that we have purchased since we've started our program. We will continue to raise money for the school and for music.”
Harrison said they recently received a donation of 25 ukeleles from a third grade mother.
“I think we're building little musicians and once this program starts churning in years two and three, they're going to be life long learners of music I’m convinced,” Harrison said.