The Community Opus Project’s first group of students performed for the last time as a group of elementary schoolers for the project’s Musical Taquiza fundraiser recently.
The San Diego Youth Symphony Conservancy started Opus in 2010 to support the arts in public education and has since influenced the return of music instruction during the school day to all 45 schools in the Chula Vista Elementary School District.
“We have essentially served temporarily as the school district’s music specialist,” said Dalouge Smith, president and CEO of Opus. “Our role throughout the entire process has been one of both providing the afterschool instruction, running the pilot program, and then working very closely with the school district to help it rebuild its own capacity to provide music education during the school day.”
The project started as an after-school program with just 65 third-graders at Otay and Lauderbach elementary schools.
Now Opus works with 3,000 students at 18 different schools with music instruction in class and after school.
Many of those third-graders are now sixth-graders with four years of music instruction and performing to take with them into middle school and the rest of their lives.
“Music programs have been cut from elementary schools across the country,” said Smith. “And the most commonly identified reason is that when the No Child Left Behind law was passed, it imposed some very, very stringent testing.”
“The trend of diminished arts in education has been a national trend and we’re very excited to see that Chula Vista Elementary School District is choosing to move away from that trend,” Smith added.
While No Child Left Behind no longer exists in name, its core legislation, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is currently still effective and retains many of the testing requirements that were central to No Child Left Behind.
“Standardized tests have not included the arts and because the tests are so high stakes, most instruction is focused on preparing students for the tests in a lot of schools. So that meant eliminating a lot of arts instruction,” said Caren Holtzman, education studies instructor at UCSD and author of “Object Lessons: Teaching Mathematics through the Visual Arts.”
“The other thing is that in recent years there have been a lot of budget cuts, so that’s another reason why the arts have really taken a hit in California and everywhere,” said Holtzman.
The arts are essential in teaching key skills that are necessary for success in today’s world, said Holtzman. Students who learn music at younger age are better equipped to master key subjects including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), she added.