Growing a Program

Video summary

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Alvaro Rodas discusses how he started the Corona Youth Music Project, which serves the local children of predominantly Latino immigrants in Queens, NY. Working with limited resources and informed by Alvaro’s experiences with Sistema programs in Guatemala and Venezuela, the program relies heavily on the support of community volunteers, parents, and the students themselves.

Peer mentoring is an El Sistema-inspired strategy that is especially effective in a new program with limited resources. The idea is that even a student who has mastered two notes can help a student who knows one. Alvaro and teaching artist Jennifer Johnson describe how peer mentoring has enabled older students to develop leadership skills while supporting younger students. With guidance from Alvaro and Jennifer, mentors use language they’ve learned from their teachers as they work with small groups of younger children and take turns conducting orchestra rehearsals.

Jennifer also gives private lessons to the mentors, who in turn give private lessons to younger students. The mentors and younger students use a self-assessment strategy and a “CYMPhony” card to discuss and record their strengths, challenges, and goals, so they can keep track of their progress. Jennifer also videotapes the lessons to help students assess their mentoring skills as they develop over time.

Teaching artist Eun Lee leads a musical language camp, which is designed to help younger students retain skills and knowledge during the summer. She uses a variety of vocal games and kinesthetic activities to help students develop fine motor skills, rhythm, pulse, memory, musical vocabulary, and note-reading skills. The summer program culminates in a performance and party for the students and their families.

Both building community and giving back to the community are important concepts for El Sistema-inspired programs, as is frequent performance. The Corona Youth Music Project’s teachers, volunteers, and students perform a program of duets at a neighborhood senior center — one of their many regular performances in the neighborhood.