El Sistema has given Anjuli Bartlett more than just an education in music.

The after-school program at Gault Elementary has helped the Santa Cruz fourth-grader with her academics and taught her to respect teachers and classmates alike. “School is a lot easier for her because she is applying what she’s learned in El Sistema in other ways,” mom Hari Bartlett said of her 9-year-old daughter. “I saw a new poise about her.”

Anjuli was a member of the first El Sistema cohort at Gault Elementary, where the free program started in 2011 with 35 kindergartners and has since grown to 200 children in kindergarten through fifth grade. In June 2015, the grant-funded program came under the umbrella of the Arts Council Santa Cruz County as part of our Fiscal Sponsorship program.

The program El Sistema, which was launched with a Yahoo Employee Foundation grant, uses music to connect children from different backgrounds. At Gault school, about two-thirds of students are Latino, about 30 percent are white, and about 70 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch. Organizers of El Sistema identified a need for students to build deeper connections after school. “We’re not just teaching music; it’s about social change,” said founder Isabelle Tuncer, also a Gault Elementary mom.
We’re not just teaching music; it’s about social change,” said founder Isabelle Tuncer, also a Gault Elementary mom.

“El Sistema is an identity — not just a program at a low-income school. It’s a school with music.” Ina Lee, whose 9-year-old twins Zoe and Anais Huet were also in the first El Sistema class at Gault, said participating in the program allowed her daughters to tap into a lot of creativity. “It gave them an outlet for creativity yet with structure,” Lee said. “They have always loved singing, so it was perfect.” Zoe said she loves performing in concerts throughout the school year. “When you’re on stage, and you can hear the sound, it’s really fun,” she said, noting that the favorite piece she learned to play this year was Pachelbel’s Canon in D. The El Sistema teaching model was established in Venezuela in the mid 1970s.
The model is based in the notion that learning to read music and playing it together will develop children’s individual talents but also teach them how to work well together.

The children gather four times a week for 28 weeks to sing and play a bevvy of instruments, including the flute, recorder, violin and clarinet. There is also a five-week course for kindergartners that begins after spring break. El Sistema participants performed recently outside the Civic Center in Santa Cruz as part of the Cabrillo Festival of Music, and students also have played at the Museum of Art and History, UC Santa Cruz and the Rio Theater. El Sistema has a staff of five teachers and hopes to grow the program to Branciforte Middle School and Harbor High. To learn more about El Sistema, send an email to elsistemasantacruz@gmail.com

The Arts Council is a fiscal sponsor of El Sistema. Learn more about at artscouncilsc.org/technical-assistance-professional-development/fiscal-sponsorship.

– J.M. Brown

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