NAPLES — Editors Note: This is one in an occasional series of articles featuring examples of school-community involvement in Collier County and its impact in the community. To get involved or learn more about the Connect Now initiative of The Education Foundation, visit www.EducationForCollier.org or call 643-4755.
Until she started playing the violin this year, Guadalupe Jacobo, 10, had never played an instrument before.
In about two weeks, the fourth-grader at Pinecrest Elementary School in Immokalee learned how to read basic sheet music and pluck the notes on the strings of her miniature violin.
“I like that it’s long and not heavy,” the petite 10-year-old said of her violin. “I learned about the F sharp and how we get the notes from the book.”
Guadalupe is one of 36 students at Pinecrest Elementary School who is enrolled in a free after-school musical enrichment program that teaches third-, fourth- fifth- and sixth-grade students how to play mariachi music on violins and guitars. Mariachi is a type of traditional Mexican folk music, typically performed by a small group of strolling musicians.
Learning how to play the violin or guitar is not the only benefit that Guadalupe and her classmates are taking away from their mariachi lessons.
A Florida Department of Education study shows a correlation between student participation in fine arts courses, higher grade point averages and higher FCAT scores.
“The research tells us that the longer a child is able to play any instrument, the better they’re going to do in their academics,” said Judy Evans, program director of Enhanced Learning Through Music.
Evans, who organizes the mariachi program and the teaching behind it, believes that by learning how to play an instrument, the Pinecrest students will probably improve their overall academic performance.
“It’s the discipline, listening skills, the concentration level (and) all the things we ask them to do at one time — that multitasking — (that) carries on to all the rest of the classes they have,” she said.
The Florida DOE data, which was analyzed by a researcher at Florida State University, shows that indicators of student success increase in direct correlation to the number of years in which a student is enrolled in school music, theatre and visual arts courses.
“It made no difference what ethnic background or what economic background” these high school seniors came from, Evans said. “The more years they had of music or art (courses,) their test scores on any standardized test were higher than students who did not have” those courses.
The mariachi lessons started on Jan. 11 and are held after school on Mondays and Thursdays every week. The mariachi music books used in the program allow both guitar and violin to be taught simultaneously. The classes are a supplement to the regular public school curriculum in which the students only have general music lessons once a week.
Toward the end of the school year, the Pinecrest mariachis will perform in concerts and sing along to the songs while they play them on their instruments.
“It’s the very first time we’ve ever taught mariachi in Collier County” public schools, Evans said.
Evans, who was an orchestra teacher in Collier County for 27 years and is now retired, always wanted to start up a mariachi music program.
“So now what better place than in Immokalee to have mariachi,” she said.
A majority of the students enrolled in the mariachi music lessons come from Spanish-speaking homes.
“Even though mariachi originally came from Mexico, it’s now known in most Spanish-speaking countries,” Evans said.
Many different players banded together to bring the academic enhancing mariachi music to Pinecrest students in Immokalee. It began with a collaboration between The Guadalupe Center, The Education Foundation of Collier County and the Bower School of Music at Florida Gulf Coast University to provide financial support and resources for a violin program for pre-kindergarten students with the hope of eventually expanding into Pinecrest.
The success of the program inspired the expansion into Pinecrest this year and Evans enlisted the help of six students from the Bower School of Music at Florida Gulf Coast University to, in addition to the violin program, help her teach mariachi music at Pinecrest.
“Some of the kids that in their environment, might not be able to learn these (instruments) on their own,” said Maxwell Essler, freshman music education major at FGCU. Essler, who plays the guitar and bass in the orchestra at FGCU, enjoys sharing his passion for music with the Pinecrest students and appreciates their enthusiasm for learning.
“It’s also kind of a learning experience too because one day I hope to be a teacher as well, so it’s kind of like a good crash course in what I’ll be expecting,” he said. “It’s good practice and training.”
The mariachi program at Pinecrest received financial support from the American String Teachers Association, the United Arts Council of Collier County and the Collier County Public Schools. The Education Foundation supported both the violin and the mariachi program through the Lucie Jenny MacCarthy Music Fund of the Community Foundation.
If the mariachi lessons show positive results with the students at Pinecrest Elementary School, Evans hopes to eventually expand the program to all the public elementary schools in Immokalee.
Contact Sarah Donovan at email@example.com.