After her work as music director at Southwestern College, Professor of Music Dr. Cynthia McGregor arrives at Sunnyside Elementary School at 1:30 p.m. She sets-up 25 music stands in the auditorium and arranges 40 tiny chairs for her students. She hooks up her computer to the projector and re-configures the sound system, which she admits rarely works.
At 2:05 p.m. students pile in. Ages 8 -12 and most measuring less than five feet, they are much different than what McGregor is used to. But Sunnyside’s Pied Piper is undeterred.
The Chula Vista Elementary School District reinstated music into its curriculum this spring, but provided very little funding for instruction. With a swish of McGregor’s baton, the after-school music program, roars to life again.
“It’s not healthy for some of the kids to have an absence of art,” said McGregor, a French horn virtuoso. “The music teachers only get to see the students once every two weeks, so I figured an after-school band program would really be fun for the kids.”
McGregor’s Sunnyside band has 40 students, more than 20 percent of all grades 4-6.
Former Sunnyside teacher Charisse Hines and McGregor collaborated to create the after-school program. The Bulldog Band consists of trumpets, flutes, clarinets, trombones and a drummer. It is preparing for Sunnyside’s Variety Show on April 29.
Sunnyside’s Parents Club donated $2,000 to purchase music stands, books and mouthpiece pullers. Families are responsible for providing their students’ instrument, and rentals are as little as $20 a month. Most students borrow their instruments from friends and family. Making their music experience free was an emphasis for the program.
“I feel that playing an instrument can teach kids so much,” she said. “It can teach them how to have a goal, work toward that goal, how to work as a team and how to create something you can be proud of.”
Like sports or ASB, Sunnyside’s after-school music program is allowing students to be a part of something larger then themselves, a lifelong bond and belonging that promotes confidence and self-esteem.
“It’s something that you can say as an adult, ‘I played trombone when I was in elementary school,’” she said. “Rather then saying ‘I did bad on all of my test in elementary school.’ Music gives students something to talk about.”
Principal Dawn Minutelli understands the benefits her students receive from music and supports the program.
“We are looking forward to watching our Sunnyside musicians continue to improve their craft, and see the positive impact it will make on them academically and socially.”
Sunnyside’s band seems to be good luck. A performance at their school’s soccer game preceded a 5-1 win.
“I think we’re the only elementary soccer team that has a pep band,” said McGregor.
Students practice Thursdays and perform at soccer games. On Mondays McGregor plays various instruments for her students to help them become attuned to their sounds. She has even created a website full of instructional videos to help students with technique and additional practice.
When McGregor asked her students what their end goal was, some said, “play a concert for our parents,” some replied, “let’s have a pizza party,” while others said, “let’s watch Star Wars!’”
In the spirit of Solomon, McGregor offered them an opportunity to do all three.
“How about we do an end-of-the-year band event where we play for our parents, then have pizza and watch ‘Star Wars,’” she said. The students agreed and plans for the End-of-The-Year-Band-Party began.
Sunnyside’s grand finale will be May 26. Pizza will be plentiful, but there is no confirmation Han Solo will attend.