Teaching music in elementary and middle-school classrooms includes the classics, and often includes theme music for video games. At least that has been the experience of music professor Travis Maril.
Maril leads the string department at the San Diego State University School of Music and Dance. In that capacity, he works with music education students at SDSU to provide after-school violin instruction to youth in National City through the non-profit A Reason to Survive (ARTS). The program is free of charge to National City youth through a gift provided by SDSU's Aztec Parents Fund, which provides new instruments to all the students.
Teaching music in National City
The collaboration provides SDSU music education students with real-life teaching experience, which is needed to graduate. The SDSU students lead their own classrooms, with input from Maril, and teach 10 to 15 National City youth in each class.
“This partnership allows students at SDSU to experience a community that has had very little exposure to classical music,” Maril said. The experience extends beyond the teaching of Beethoven and Mozart, and SDSU students find the youth use their classical instruments to play the music they like — be it modern music or theme songs in video games.
The partnership in National City includes the SDSU Sage Project, ARTS and SDSU music education students through the SDSU String Academy, which Maril directs. The SDSU String Academy provides on-campus, conservatory level instruction in violin, viola or cello to children aged 6 to 18, while simultaneously serving as a teacher-training program for SDSU music students wishing to become music teachers.
Maril’s students began working with National City in 2014 through the Sage Project, which seeks to connect SDSU students and faculty with community projects.
ARTS serves youth from 3 to 22 years of age who are facing challenges, such as homelessness, domestic violence, poverty and illness. The vast majority of these individuals come from minority families of low socioeconomic status who are considered to be at risk for future unhealthy, unsafe and otherwise adverse behaviors. ARTS provides the opportunity for these children to learn to express themselves artistically, creatively and musically.
Academic and Industry Leader
The Music Education program at SDSU specifically trains students to be music educators. The program is a model for California state curriculum for its innovative design, successful placement of new teachers in the community, and currency in meeting state and national content standards in music.
Students in the program are mentored by more than 35 practicing K-12 music educators who volunteer their time with students and faculty to insure the currency of the pre-professional training. Combined with a comprehensive curriculum in theory, aural skills, technology, composition, arranging, analysis, literature, history and traditions, 100 percent of the graduates of the program have been successfully placed in professional jobs throughout Southern California and beyond. In fact, 65 percent of all music teachers in the San Diego region are SDSU graduates.
The impact of music education
SDSU music education student Daisy Kiner-Kopp taught at the SDSU String Academy for a year before becoming a teacher at ARTS. Since transitioning to ARTS, she has learned of the great need for music education in the community and embraced valuable lessons.
According to Kiner-Kopp one of the biggest lessons since joining ARTS is to be patient with students because they may be going through challenges in their personal lives that affect their behavior in the classroom. By creating a safe zone in her classroom, her students can express their emotions through their music.
“The opportunity has given me lots of teaching experience working with real students and seeing the results of my teaching has been very rewarding,” Kiner-Kopp said.
She plans to continue working at ARTS and pursuing a career as a music teacher.
The future of the partnership
Funding through the Aztec Parents Fund will end shortly, but ARTS has found the partnership to be so effective they have committed to continuing the program.
SDSU music education will continue to provide student-music teachers through the support of donors. The Music Education Fellowship Program provides $4,500 stipend to students selected to assist 8 to 10 hours per week in the community.
To date, more than 25 fellowships have been awarded and donors Norman F. and Marydale M. Dessel, The Epstein Family Foundation, and James L. Gunderson have recently donated to the Fellowship Program to ensure SDSU students can continue to gain valuable pre-professional classroom experience and area schools are supported with pre-service music educators.
“I think it is a great bond we have forged with the community and this organization,” Maril said. “It is really neat to see just how much the kids enjoy the lessons and I am very excited to see how it will continue.”